Aboriginal rights protesters burn Australian flag outside Parliament


Aboriginal demonstrators burn an Australian flag during a protest outside Parliament House in Canberra, Australia. (Alan Porritt/AP)

The demonstration followed an incident Thursday in which protesters besieged Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott at an event marking Australia Day — the anniversary of the arrival of British settlers in the country. Security personnel were forced to call in federal police to help them escort Gillard and Abbott from the protest at a Canberra restaurant. Gillard lost her shoe as bodyguards hustled her into a waiting car, and as the Associated Press reported, police are still considering bringing charges against activists who pounded on the windows of the official cars as they sped away.

Friday’s protest march was organized by activist Wayne Coco Wharton and was not officially sponsored by the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, a long-standing protest site in the capital, reported the Sydney Morning Herald. Several people attempted to enter Parliament house but were repelled by a double line of police. Rebuffed, the crowd chanted anti-police slogans and later dispersed.

Tensions between Aboriginal activists and the Australian government have reached a new height as a government panel explores ways to change the country’s constitution to better recognize the rights of the indigenous population, referred to as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Recent comments by Abbott on the 40th anniversary of the tent embassy, in which he recommended that the country “move on,” had angered activists and was mentioned by many as the reason for both Thursday’s and Friday’s protests.

For those concerned about the fate of Gillard’s lost shoe, protesters were quick to scoop it up and later threatened to ransom it back to the prime minister. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, and the shoe will be returned, according to the AP. Asked about the missing shoe, Gillard seemed unconcerned. “It really doesn’t worry me,” she said. “I’m in a fortunate situation where I’m a woman with a few pairs of shoes.”

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