A clash between protesters and Australian police that forced bodyguards to rush Prime Minister Julia Gillard out of an event appears to have been set off by information released by one of Gillard's own aides.
The aide has been fired. Gillard's office said Friday that a member of her media unit told someone that opposition leader Tony Abbott would be at Thursday's event in Canberra, the capital. A spokesperson said in a statement that the information was passed on to indigenous-rights protesters who were demonstrating nearby.
The protesters were angry about recent comments Abbott made about their movement, and about 200 of them surrounded the restaurant where he and Gillard were. Gillard stumbled as she was rushed out and lost a shoe, which the protesters picked up.
Gillard's office said that although the staff member had not suggested or encouraged violence or demonstration, the release of the information was “an error of judgment.”
Abbott told Sky News on Saturday that Gillard must reveal exactly what the fired staffer said, and to whom. He called it a “serious security breach” and an apparent attempt to “trigger something potentially dire for political advantage.”
“Trouble was triggered and it seems that someone from the prime minister's office had a very big hand in all of that,” he said.
Michael Outram, national manager of protection for the Australian Federal Police, said police may file charges against some of the protesters. Protest leaders denied doing anything wrong, accused the police of manhandling protesters and said they planned to lodge a complaint against the officers involved.
About 200 indigenous-rights supporters marched on the nation's Parliament House on Friday, burning an Australian flag in front of a wall of police and carrying signs with messages such as “All cops are bastards.” No one was hurt and the protesters left minutes later.
The restaurant where Thursday's clash occurred is close to the so-called Aboriginal Tent Embassy, where the protesters had demonstrated peacefully earlier in the day. That long-standing, ramshackle collection of tents and temporary shelters is a center point of protests against Australia Day, which marks the arrival of the first fleet of British colonists in Sydney on Jan. 26, 1788. Many Aborigines call it Invasion Day because the land was settled without a treaty with traditional owners.
The Tent Embassy celebrated its 40th anniversary on Thursday, and Abbott had earlier angered activists by saying it was time the embassy “moved on.” Abbott said Friday that his comment had been misinterpreted, and that he never meant to imply the embassy should be torn down.
The blue suede shoe Gillard lost was handed to a security guard at Parliament House late Friday and taken to her office.