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Australia's Tony Abbott refuses to apologize over Indonesia spy scandal

By Peter Shadbolt, CNN
November 19, 2013 -- Updated 0903 GMT (1703 HKT)
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in a file picture from September 30, 2013.
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in a file picture from September 30, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott refuses to apologise over spy allegations
  • He tells parliament that information is used by Australia to "help not harm" its allies
  • Indonesia on Monday withdrew its ambassador to Australia in protest
  • Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono fired off a series of angry tweets over the issue

(CNN) -- Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday refused to apologize over damaging allegations that Australia's intelligence services spied on Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, tapping his personal mobile phone and those of his inner circle.

"Australia should not be expected to apologize for the steps we take to protect our country now, or in the past, any more than other governments should be expected to apologize for the similar steps they have taken," Abbott said in an address to parliament.

"Importantly, in Australia's case, we use all our resources including information to help our friends and allies, not to harm them," Abbott said, adding that Australia should not be expected to detail what it does to protect its country any more than other countries do.

"I want to make it absolutely crystal clear, Australia has deep respect for Indonesia, for its government, and for its people," he said. "I regard President Yudhoyono as a good friend of Australia, indeed as one of the very best friends that we have anywhere in the world, that's why ... I sincerely regret any embarrassment that recent media reports have caused him."

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He said that it was in everyone's interest that "cool heads prevail" over the spying scandal that has engulfed his new Liberal government.

On Monday, the Indonesian government took what it described as "the serious step" of withdrawing its ambassador from the Australian capital Canberra. Jakarta also summoned Australian ambassador Greg Moriarty to voice its anger at allegations that Australia had been spying directly on the Indonesian president.

Earlier on Tuesday, President Yudhoyono released a series of angry Tweets -- translated from Bahasa Indonesia into English and signed "SBY" to indicate they come straight from the president -- in which he attacked Abbott over a perceived lack of remorse over the revelations.

"I also regret the statement of (the) Australian Prime Minister that belittled this tapping matter in Indonesia without any remorse. *SBY*," the tweet read.

"These US & Australian actions have certainly damaged the strategic partnership with Indonesia, as fellow democracies. *SBY*," an earlier tweet read.

Indonesia earlier this month expressed outrage over reports that Australia's Jakarta embassy was used as part of a U.S.-led spying network in Asia.

READ: Brazil admits spying but says it wasn't like NSA

In his series of tweets, Yudhoyono called on the Australian government to "give us an official answer which can be understood by broader Indonesian society about the tapping."

While the direct attack on Abbott is likely to be a blow for the new Liberal government, which has made much of maintaining good relations with its populous northern neighbor -- a key ally and trading partner -- Abbott has been consistently unrepentant about the revelations.

Australia should not be expected to apologize for the steps we take to protect our country
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott

Speaking in parliament on Monday, Abbott had said: "The Australian government never comments on specific intelligence matters.

"All governments gather information and all governments know that every other government gathers information.

"I will never say or do anything that might damage the strong relationship and the close co-operation that we have with Indonesia, which is all in all our most important relationship."

Indonesia's objections stem from reports in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Guardian Australia that said Australian intelligence tracked Yudhoyono's mobile phone for 15 days in August 2009, monitoring the calls he made and received.

The intelligence agency also tried to listen in on what was said on at least one occasion. But the call was less than a minute long and could not be successfully tapped, ABC reported.

The two media outlets cited documents provided by Edward Snowden, the U.S. national security contractor-turned-leaker.

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