Updated: 08/16/2014 19:20 | By Agence France-Presse

Australian PM urges Scots to stay in UK

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Saturday urged Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom, saying independence would be cheered by enemies of justice and freedom.

Australian PM urges Scots to stay in UK

File picture shows then Conservative challenger for Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivering an address in Sydney on September 7, 2013 - by Saeed Khan

Abbott's comments to The Times newspaper are the strongest given yet by a major foreign leader on the Scottish independence debate, and follow on from calls from US President Barack Obama to keep the union intact.

"As a friend of Britain, as an observer from afar, it's hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland," said Abbott.

"I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, the friends of freedom, and the countries that would cheer at the prospect... are not the countries whose company one would like to keep."

Scotland goes to the polls on September 18 to decide whether to break away from the 307-year-old union with England. 

Obama last month backed the union, saying: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, during a visit to London in June, also said he wanted a "strong, prosperous and united United Kingdom".

A spokesman for Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who is leading the pro-independence campaign, said Abbott had "put his foot in it".

"Tony Abbott has a reputation for gaffes, but his bewildering comments have all the hallmarks of one of the Westminster government's international briefings against Scotland," he said.

"Many Australians, including the great number with close Scottish connections, will look on in bafflement at these remarks -- Australia is a country that has gained its independence from Westminster and has never looked back."

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