Video: Australian Prime Minister in dramatic rescue by riot police from violent protesters
Published 26/01/2012 | 08:44
Julia Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister, and the opposition leader, have been rescued by riot police after being trapped in a building during a violent protest calling for Aboriginal rights.
The country's two political leaders were attending a function to mark Australia Day when protesters began banging on the glass sides of the building and yelled "shame" and "racist". The protest lasted 20 minutes until about 50 police dragged the two to safety.
Ms Gillard appeared shaken as she was rushed out of the Lobby restaurant near Old Parliament House. During the evacuation, she lost her footing and a shoe as she was ferried by armed officers to a waiting vehicle. She and Mr Abbott were escorted to the same car, with angry protesters chasing after it and banging on the roof and bonnet.
The mayhem was apparently sparked by comments by Mr Abbott, who questioned the relevance of a makeshift Aboriginal tent embassy, which was celebrating its fortieth anniversary on the lawns of Federal Parliament.
About 100 to 200 protesters had gathered at the embassy, which is on a lawn close to the restaurant.
An Aboriginal community leader who was at the protest, Fred Hooper, said the event had been peaceful until Mr Abbott made his remarks.
"The opposition leader on national television made a comment to tear down something that have built over 40 years, which is sacred to us,'' he said.
"So what do you expect us to do when we're 200 yards away from the person that makes that comment? Do you expect us to say, 'yeah Tony we're gonna do that now? We're gonna rip it down?'"
Many indigenous Australians regard Australia's annual day of celebrations on January 26 – which marks the arrival of the First Fleet from Britain in 1788 – as "invasion day". Relations between the Aboriginal community and Canberra's politicians have often been strained, with successive governments failing to overcome high rates of indigenous crime, poverty and poor health.
Mr Abbott said he understood the reasons for the embassy's founding – which was initiated in 1972 in a call for recognition of Aboriginal land rights – but questioned its continued presence.
"I think the Indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held with every Australian," he said. "Yes, I think a lot has changed and I think it's probably time to move on from that."
A co-founder of the makeshift embassy, Michael Anderson, said Mr Abbott's comments were "madness" and "amounts to inciting racial riots".
"He said the Aboriginal embassy had to go; we heard it on a radio broadcast," he said.
"We thought no way, so we circled around the building."