Most Australia graves in Libya cemetery vandalised: PM

Gravestones are seen damaged by an Islamist group in protest at the burning of the Koran by US soldiers in Afghanistan in a February 24, 2012 file photo.

SYDNEY - Almost all the Australian graves in a Commonwealth war cemetery in Libya have been vandalised, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Wednesday as she stepped up calls on the interim regime to act.

The attacks on British and Commonwealth graves in the eastern city of Benghazi were reportedly carried out late last month by Muslim Salafists angered by the burning of the Koran at a US military base in Afghanistan.

"Distressingly, 50 out of 55 graves have been damaged by these actions, so that's a very large number," Gillard said.

"We will continue to ensure through our pressure on the interim government in Libya that there is a full investigation of this matter and that wrongdoers are brought to justice."

Gillard said there was no evidence that Australian headstones were particularly targeted, saying that 238 graves belonging to soldiers of 10 different nationalities had been damaged in the rampage.

All of New Zealand's 11 headstones were reportedly damaged.

The focus of the attack appears to have been the Cross of Sacrifice, a tall stone Latin cross which is a central feature of all Commonwealth war cemeteries where more than 50 soldiers are buried.

Australian graves are close to the large cross which video posted on the Internet shows a man attacking with a sledgehammer as others kicked over headstones.

Gillard said all the damaged Australian graves would be restored.

Libya's transitional government has condemned the vandalism and vowed to find the perpetrators.

A total of 1,214 Commonwealth troops who died in the north African desert battles of World War II are buried at the Benghazi War Cemetery.

Most of those buried at the cemetery are British, with other graves belonging to Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, South African and Indian servicemen.