Indigenous leaders in Australia have condemned protesters who besieged Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbot inside a Canberra restaurant today, forcing riot police to intervene and rescue both politicians.
Around 200 supporters of indigenous rights and Canberra’s Aboriginal Tent Embassy surrounded the city’s Lobby restaurant, where Gillard and Abbot were attending a ceremony to mark Australia’s national day, according to the Associated Press.
Reportedly angered by Abbot’s suggestion that the camp – now in its 40th year – be taken down, activists began banging on the restaurant’s windows, yelling “shame” and “racist”, the BBC reported.
After 20 minutes, 50 riot police escorted Gillard and Abbot through a side door and scrambled to get them into a waiting car, with protesters continuing to bang on the vehicle’s roof and bonnet as it rushed away from the scene.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda condemned the protesters’ actions “in the strongest possible terms,” calling the demonstration “absolutely appalling” and “disrespectful to our Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader,” according to the Australian.
Warren Mundine, an indigenous leader and former president of the Australian Labor Party, said the activists were a “disgrace”, and that the tent embassy had been “hijacked by a motley crew of people” and long ceased to be relevant for most of the Aboriginal population.
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Protesters had gathered for a three-day Corroborree for Sovereignty to celebrate the embassy’s 40th anniversary.
An Aboriginal community leader taking part, Fred Hooper, said the event had been peaceful until Abbot suggested in a TV interview that it was “time to move on” from the camp, given plans to formally recognise indigenous people in Australia’s constitution.
“What do you expect us to do when we’re 200 yards away from the person that makes that comment?” he said, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Gillard later hosted another Australia Day function for foreign diplomats at her official residence, saying “the only thing that angers me is that it distracted from such a wonderful event,” the Associated Press reported.
“I am made of pretty tough stuff and the police did a great job,” she added.