Thursday, January 26, 2012

Australia's PM Gillard dragged away from Aboriginal rights protest

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is rushed to a car by security after some 200 rowdy protesters surrounded a restaurant where she was speaking in Canberra, Australia.'s Dara Brown reports.

CANBERRA -- Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was dragged away by security guards Thursday after she was trapped in a restaurant by rowdy protesters demonstrating for indigenous rights following a ceremony to mark Australia's national day.

Some 200 supporters of Aboriginal rights surrounded a Canberra restaurant and banged on its windows while Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott were inside officiating at an award ceremony.

The protesters were marching at the nearby Aboriginal Tent Embassy to mark 40 years since its establishment and rushed the restaurant in response to comments by Abbott earlier in the day, The Australian newspaper reported.

"Look, I can understand why the Tent Embassy was established all those years ago. I think a lot has changed for the better since then," Abbott said earlier Thursday.

"I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian and yes, I think a lot has changed since then and I think it probably is time to move on from that," he said.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is escorted by police and bodyguards out of a restaurant after aboriginal Tent Embassy protesters tried to get into the building in Canberra, Australia, on Thursday.

The newspaper reported that according to protesters, his remarks were interpreted as a call to take down the Tent Embassy, a ramshackle collection of tents and temporary shelters in the national capital that is a center point of protests against Australia Day.

Invasion Day

Australia Day marks the arrival of the first fleet of British colonists in Sydney on Jan. 26, 1788. Many Aborigines call it Invasion Day because the land was settled without a treaty with traditional owners.

Around 50 police escorted the political leaders from a side door to a car. Gillard stumbled, losing a shoe. Her personal security guard wrapped his arms around her and supported her to the waiting car, shielding her from the angry crowd.

Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council Leader Sean Gordon told The Sydney Morning Herald that Abbott's comments had been read out to the crowd, which had been rallying peacefully until then.

"It was like waving a red flag at a bull," he said.

David Crosling / AP, file

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy, set up in 1972, sits on the lawn of the Old Parliament House building in Canberra.

Protesters chanted "shame" and "racist" outside the restaurant.

One of the Tent Embassy's founders, Michael Anderson, said after the incident that Abbott's remarks were "madness," the Herald reported.

"What he said amounts to inciting racial riots," he said.

Gillard was unharmed and hosted another Australia Day function at her official residence in Canberra later Thursday.

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