Australia asks Indonesia to rethink death penalty for two drug offenders

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia called on Indonesia on Friday to reconsider its decision to execute two Australians convicted of drug offences, a move that is likely to strain already fragile ties between the two neighbours.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the two members of the so-called Bali Nine who were arrested at Bali's Denpasar airport in 2005 for attempting to smuggle 8kg of heroin into Australia were reformed characters who had helped rehabilitate other prisoners.

"The prerogative of mercy should be extended to them," Mr Abbott said in a statement. "Australia opposes the death penalty at home and abroad."

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who took office in October, has pledged no clemency for drug offenders, drawing criticism from rights activists at home and abroad.

Indonesia executed six convicted drug traffickers, including five foreigners, by firing squad last week. Brazil and the Netherlands recalled their ambassadors from Jakarta, while Nigeria summoned the Indonesian ambassador in Abuja to protest against the execution of their citizens.

Mr Abbott said he and Foreign Minister Julia Bishop had made direct representations to their Indonesian counterparts and "are continuing to make every possible effort through the most effective channels" to stop the executions of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.

It was not immediately clear when the executions of Sukumaran, 33, and Chan, 31, might take place.

Ms Bishop said earlier this week she would not rule out recalling the Australian ambassador should the executions be carried out.

"This is an unimaginably difficult time for the families of these young men," Abbott said. "I spoke with both families today and will ensure the government continues to support them."

Indonesia has a record of imposing severe penalties for drug trafficking, resuming executions in 2013 after a five-year gap.

Relations between Indonesia and Australia hit a low in late 2013 after reports that Australia had spied on top Indonesian officials, including then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife.

Indonesia froze military and intelligence cooperation with Australia and restored relations in May 2014.

Abbott said the government would make no further public comment on the case in the interests of the convicted men.