Thousands celebrate Diwali in Melbourne

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Melbourne:  Putting behind the strains in ties after attacks on Indians in recent months, thousands of people, including Australians, converged at the Federation Square in Melbourne on Saturday to celebrate Diwali.

Victorian Premier John Brumby, who joined the people in celebrating the Festival of Lights, said Diwali was an important occasion for the Indian community and a great example of how Victoria's multicultural communities come together to share their cultures.

"In Victoria we come from more than 200 countries of origin, speak more than 230 languages and dialects and follow more than 120 faiths. This enhances our reputation as a harmonious, vibrant and cohesive community," he said.

The festival in Melbourne features Bollywood dance and music performances and workshops, Indian fashion and craft displays, food, jewellery, music and movies, clothing and other variety stalls, a magic show for children, traditional henna hand painting and a sunset fireworks display.

The Victorian Government contributed US $20,000 to sponsor Diwali 2009 from its US $4.6 million Victorian Multicultural Commission's Community Grants Program.

"Diwali is a marvellous expression of what we all strive to achieve as a community of varied backgrounds, faiths and interests and it is wonderful to see so many people from different cultures coming together," Brumby said.

Brumby said his visit to India had helped to reaffirm and build on strong relationships between Victoria and India. He also assured them that attacks against any community will not be accepted.

"My message to the Indian community, which is well established in Victoria, has been that they are valued members of our community and that we will not tolerate racism of violence in any form against any member of our community."

Indian High Commissioner to Australia, Sujatha Singh, who spoke in Hindi, asked the community members to maintain calm as the two countries were working seriously to defuse the crisis.

Consul-General Anita Nayyar and Opposition leader Ted Baillieu and other leaders also participated in Diwali celebrations.

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