The Two-Way
9:50 am
Thu January 26, 2012

Australian Prime Minister Rescued From Angry Protesters

Australia Day ended with a tense showdown between aboriginal protesters and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Thursday.

Gilliard along with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott were at an awards ceremony for emergency workers in Canberra, the Australian Capital. Earlier in the day, Abbott had said that maybe it was time to bring down the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, a semi-permanent structure that sits outside the Old Parliament House.

"I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian and, yes, I think a lot has changed since then and I think it probably is time to move on from that," Abbott said

As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports, that tent is seen as symbolically representing the rights of aboriginals and the comments came on Australia Day, which aboriginals view as "invasion day."

The tent, which has been there for 40 years, is also a protest against the arrival of British colonialists in 1788.

So, according to the ABC, about 200 people headed from the Tent Embassy to the restaurant where the awards ceremony was being held. They chanted "shame" and "racist" while they banged on the windows.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on what happened next:

"The situation was so volatile that Ms Gillard's federal police escort decided to rush her from the event. As they did she stumbled and they dragged her from the restaurant to a car.

"About 50 police, including members of the riot squad brandishing batons and carrying plastic shields, had clashed with angry protesters who were chanting 'shame', 'racist' and 'always was, will be, Aboriginal land' and banging on the glass walls of the restaurant.

"A conversation between Ms Gillard and her security team inside the restaurant was caught by Channel Nine cameras. Her bodyguards were concerned the glass walls would cave in under the force of the protesters' banging. 'We feel that the situation is deteriorating and can't stay much longer,' a member of the security team said."

Her exit was caught on video, and shows Gillard being shielded from protesters by her security team. It shows a chaotic scene, as Gillard is escorted to her vehicle and protesters try to throw themselves in front of it.

ABC reports that Gillard was 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," she told ABC. "I am made of pretty tough stuff and the police did a great job."

As for the protesters: They did get Gillard's shoe. And in a video posted by The Sydney Morning Herald, Paul Coe, an aboriginal activist, invites the prime minister to come get it.

"I would like to invite the prime minister of Australia to attend the new aboriginal parliament to kindly receive her lost shoe. We are not a nation of thieves," said Coe poking fun at Australia's history. "And we hope that in a gesture of good will, the prime minister of Australia will respond in kind and start looking at issues that seriously affect aboriginal people."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.