Australia seeks meeting over Rio arrest: report

Australia's trade minister has sought a meeting with Chinese officials in Shanghai over the arrest of a top mining executive on bribery allegations, according to local media.

Simon Crean, who is in China on a pre-arranged diplomatic visit, has been trying to intervene on behalf of Rio Tinto boss Stern Hu, who is accused of spying and stealing state secrets.

Beijing claims Hu bribed staff of Chinese steel companies during protracted iron ore price negotiations, allegations which have "surprised and concerned" Rio Tinto.

Australian consular officials were late Friday granted access to Hu for the first time since his arrest without charge last Sunday, and said he seemed well.

"Mr Hu appeared well and raised no health or welfare issues during the meeting," said Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

"Australian officials have briefed Mr Hu?s family and his employer, Rio Tinto, on the visit (and) continue to seek further information from Chinese authorities about the circumstances surrounding Mr Hu's detention," Smith said.

Pressure mounted on Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who has come under fire for refusing to personally intervene in the case.

John Dougall, who sponsored Hu's bid to become an Australian citizen in 1994, accused Canberra of abandoning him, and called for greater diplomatic pressure.

"Mr Rudd has to do more than sit back and let Stern be thrown to the wolves," Dougall told Sky News.

"Many people in Australia and China regard Stern as a trade hero and his treatment is outrageous."

Greens Senator Bob Brown and opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull also urged Rudd to intervene.

"Prime Minister Rudd should've been talking at heads-of-government level because we're dealing with a government in China which effectively runs the judicial system," Brown said.

Former Rio suitor, state-owned Chinalco, has denied the move was payback for the collapse of its 19.5-billion-US-dollar takeover bid.

Rio, the world's third-largest miner, has been locked in difficult talks with China to set iron ore prices for the coming year, with negotiators missing a key deadline on June 30.

China is the world's biggest consumer of iron ore and Australia's second-most important trade partner, with the relationship worth 58 billion US dollars last year, according to official figures.

source AFP

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