Aboriginal protests continue in Canberra

Aboriginal protesters kept their Australia Day anger alive for a second day and burnt the national flag outside Parliament House, as police considered laying charges over a melee that threatened the safety of the prime minister.

Indigenous community leaders Warren Mundine and Mick Gooda on Friday condemned the January 26 protest, saying the aggression and disrespect shown to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was appalling.

Mr Abbott, whose remarks on Thursday on the relevance of the Aboriginal tent embassy outside old Parliament House in Canberra sparked the storm, said he had been “verballed” by protesters who thought he was calling for the 40-year old site to be torn down.

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“I never said that and I don’t think that,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Friday.

Ms Gillard, who together with Mr Abbott was targeted by 200 protesters while they attended an awards ceremony at The Lobby restaurant, said violent protests should be condemned.

“Generally, the tent embassy has been a peaceful protest,” she told reporters in Melbourne on Friday.

“What I utterly condemn is when protests turn violent, the way we saw the violence yesterday.”

Mr Mundine, a former ALP national president, said the protesters over-reacted to Mr Abbott’s comments, which he described as “pretty timid”.

“He echoed words I would have echoed,” he told ABC Radio.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mr Gooda said the protest was “aggressive, divisive and frightening”.

Both leaders questioned the current relevance of the tent embassy, with Mr Mundine saying it had been hijacked by a “very motley crew” intent on tagging their concerns to Aboriginal reconciliation.

“We’ve actually moved on from those days,” he said.

Tent embassy organisers were unmoved, calling Mr Mundine and Mr Gooda “handpicked puppets” who did not represent grassroots Aboriginal people.

“We’re over it, so get over it and move on,” Michael Anderson, the last surviving member of the original four that established the tent embassy in 1972, said on Friday.

Australian Federal Police will investigate the incident, during which the protesters surrounded the restaurant and banged on glass windows and shouted, and will consider laying charges if offences have been committed.

Security personnel had feared the glass could break and advised Ms Gillard to leave.

As she was rushed outside, with Mr Abbott close behind, the prime minister lost a shoe and stumbled in extraordinary scenes that were broadcast around the world.

Tent embassy organisers also on Friday said they would seek the approval of Aboriginal communities throughout the country to sign a “declaration of sovereignty” over Australia.

“Either you respect us as a sovereign people or piss off out of our country,” indigenous activist Paul Coe told reporters.

Later, another group of about 200 marched on Parliament House and set fire to an Australian flag while chanting “always was, always will be Aboriginal land”.

Ms Gillard she didn’t believe the events on Thursday would hamper progress toward the recognition of indigenous Australians in the constitution.

“We are a country on a journey to genuine reconciliation,” she said.

Mr Abbott described his comments on Thursday as “a perfectly appropriate, respectful, sensitive comment about where we are today compared to where we were 40 years ago on this issue”.

He had said: “I think a lot has changed since then, and I think it probably is time to move on from that.”

But acting Greens leader Christine Milne said his remarks were ill considered.

AFP national manager of protection Michael Outram said the protesters had been “threatening and aggressive” but if there were complaints against AFP officers they would also be investigated.

Ms Gillard had phoned commissioner Tony Negus to thank police for their efforts.

“I was very confident in the abilities of police. I knew I’d be fine and I was fine,” she told reporters.

Meanwhile, the person who found Ms Gillard’s abandoned navy blue suede wedge shoe attempted to sell it on eBay but the online auction house took down the listing.


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