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Suspicious package found at Australian parliament
Updated: 2005-06-03 19:09

SYDNEY, - Several staff at Australia's parliament house in Canberra were put in isolation after a package containing a suspicious white powder and addressed to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer arrived at the building, officials said.

The security scare came two days after the Indonesian embassy was sealed off after a packet containing an abusive letter and a biological powder prompted fears of an anthrax attack on the mission.

Police have since said that powder was almost certainly harmless, though tests were continuing.

The latest package was discovered just after 9:00 am (0100 GMT) as it was being screened at the parliament house loading dock, said Hilary Penfold, head of security at the parliament.

The loading dock, although not contaminated, remains closed, Penfold said.

"The package was addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Hon Alexander Downer," she said in a statement.

"With the authorisation of the intended recipient, the package was opened in a secure area and found to contain a sealed plastic bag of white powder," she said.

Fire and hazardous material officers were called in and the substance was being taken to a laboratory for analysis, she said.

The building was not evacuated and Prime Minister John Howard and the heads of all state and territory governments went ahead with a meeting and press conference at parliament house despite the security scare.

Police said several mailroom staff had been isolated after the incident but would not say if they underwent decontamination showers or reveal the contents of the package.

Australian Capital Territory police were investigating whether the delivery was linked to the threat delivered to the Indonesian embassy, Sergeant Steve Cook told reporters.

"There is no evidence at this stage that links the two, however there is an ongoing investigation," he said.

On Wednesday nearly 50 staff at the Indonesian embassy in Canberra were placed in isolation after white powder spilled from an envelope addressed to Ambassador Imron Cotan.

Authorities said the powder contained a bacteria and treated the incident as a "biological attack" on the embassy linked to public anger over the jailing by an Indonesian court of a young Australian woman on drug trafficking charges.

But police later said the biological agent was not anthrax and was almost certainly harmless. Final results of tests on the powder were expected to be released later Friday.

Australian officials have been unnerved by the strong public support for Schapelle Corby, 27, who was jailed for 20 years a week ago.

Corby has protested that she was an innocent mule used by a drug trafficking ring and her only crime was that she did not lock her bags.

Howard said the abusive letter and threatening powder sent to the Indonesian embassy could prompt retaliatory action against Australia.

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