Authorities and Aboriginal rights protesters blamed each other yesterday for a heated clash in which bodyguards had to rush Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard out of an event marking the anniversary of British colonization.
Gillard stumbled in Thursday’s fray and lost a shoe, which protesters scooped up after the rowdy demonstration in the capital, Canberra. Aboriginal rights supporters had surrounded a restaurant and banged on its windows while Gillard and Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott were inside at an award ceremony to mark Australia Day.
Michael Outram, national manager of protection for the Australian Federal Police, said police might file charges against some of the protesters. Gillard said yesterday that she was fine, but slammed the activists’ actions.
“I’ve got no troubles at all with peaceful protests ... What I utterly condemn is when protests turn violent the way we saw the violence yesterday, and particularly to disrupt an event which was to honor some extraordinary Australians,” she said.
Protest leaders denied doing anything wrong, accused the police of manhandling protesters and said they planned to lodge a complaint against the officers involved.
“The Australian Federal Police came at us with force and we did not retaliate with force,” protest spokeswoman Selina -Daveys-Newry said yesterday. “We see straight through that little puppet play.”
About 200 Aboriginal rights supporters marched on the nation’s Parliament House yesterday, burning an Australian flag in front of a wall of police and carrying signs with messages such as “All cops are bastards.”
No one was hurt and the protesters left minutes later.
The restaurant where Thursday’s clash occurred is close to the so-called Aboriginal Tent Embassy, where the protesters had demonstrated peacefully earlier in the day. The longstanding, ramshackle collection of tents and temporary shelters is a center point of protests against Australia Day, which 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.
Outram defended the way Thursday’s incident had been handled, saying police had no idea the protest — which had been peaceful for much of the day — would turn aggressive.
“We had no information or reason to suspect there was going to be any problem,” Outram said in Canberra.
Abbott was the focus of much of the protesters’ rage. The Tent Embassy celebrated its 40th anniversary on Thursday, and Abbott had earlier angered activists by saying it was time the embassy “moved on.”
Abbott said yesterday that his comment had been misinterpreted, and that he never meant to imply the embassy should be torn down.
Questions lingered, meanwhile, about the fate of Gillard’s high-heeled blue suede shoe.
One of the activists ended up with it and said it would not be returned.
“She can’t have it, this is going on eBay,” she said.
The online auction Web site took a listing for what was purportedly the missing shoe with a starting price of A$148 (US$157).
“You are bidding on a used shoe. Please bear in mind also this is a single shoe, not a pair, so it would be difficult to walk in, unless you’re the PM,” it said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.