CANBERRA: Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard and federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on Thursday were forced to run a gauntlet of Aboriginal protesters, after violent scenes marred an Australia Day medal ceremony in Canberra of Australia, Xinhua News reported.
Gillard and Abbott were attending an awards ceremony for emergency workers at a Canberra restaurant when it was interrupted by about 200 protesters, who had been nearby celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy outside Old Parliament House.
The protesters banged on the three glass walls of The Lobby restaurant chanting “shame” and “racist”.
The two leaders were rushed from the function under police guard. Gillard stumbled as she was dragged by security to get away from the 200-strong crowd. Protesters then chased their car down the road, banging on its roof and bonnet.
On a day many Aboriginal people regard as “invasion day”, the group was incensed by remarks made by Abbott on Thursday morning in which he said he thought it was probably time to reconsider the relevance of the tent embassy.
However, Gillard, who later hosted a function for international ambassadors at The Lodge in Canberra, said the only thing she is angry about is the fact the protesters disrupted the awards ceremony.
“Oh I’m fine. I’m fine. The only thing that really kind of angers me about it is that it disrupted such a wonderful event for great people, emergency services medals, just amazing people,” Gillard told reporters in Canberra.
“I am made of pretty tough stuff and the police did a great job.”
Meeting up with Gillard, Abbott said he was concerned the glass windows would be smashed and asked when they would leave.
The two leaders, protected by police and security officers, escaped out a side door after almost 20 minutes. Gillard stumbled and lost a navy-blue suede wedge shoe while running to her car.
The protesters later collected the shoe and proclaimed it as a trophy.
Some of the protesters said they were aware Abbott was inside the restaurant but not the Prime Minster, however others said Gillard is a coward for not stepping outside to speak to them.
“The Opposition Leader talks about ripping the tent embassy off us. The other leader fails to even come out and speak to us as Aboriginal people. She runs like a coward, she runs,” activist Sean Gordon said.
Gordon claimed many people were angered by those remarks.
“We have not moved on in 200 years,” he said. “We have no economic base for who we are as Aboriginal people. We have title to land we aren’t able to do anything with. How have we moved on?”
Police reported no one was injured in the fracas and that no arrests were made, but some of the activists have made allegations of police brutality.
Meanwhile Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda has sided with authorities saying he is appalled at the level of disrespect and aggression shown towards the two leaders.
Gooda said the actions of the protesters went too far.