CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – 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, media adviser Tony Hodges, resigned. Gillard’s office said Friday that he told someone that opposition leader Tony Abbott would be at the awards ceremony where the clash occurred. 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 comments Abbott made about their movement, and about 200 of them surrounded the Canberra restaurant where the ceremony was being held. Gillard stumbled as she was rushed out and lost a shoe, which the protesters picked up.
Gillard said Saturday that Hodges acted alone, and that she accepted his resignation because she considered his conduct unacceptable. She said she was upset that protesters disrupted the awards ceremony, which honored Australians for their service and courage during recent natural disasters.
Abbott on Saturday demanded more details and an investigation into what he called a “serious security breach.” He told Sky News the incident appeared to be an 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.
Gillard said the suggestion that she played a role in the clash was “deeply offensive” and added that “it is absolutely typical of Mr Abbott’s negativity and his tendency to go too far.”
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.
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.
(This version corrects that adviser resigned rather than was fired.)
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