Indigenous leaders criticise 'disrespect' to Gillard

media captionJulia Gillard is dragged to her car by security staff

Indigenous leaders in Australia have condemned "disrespect" shown to Prime Minister Julia Gillard at a protest.

She and opposition leader Tony Abbott had to be rescued by riot police after angry protesters surrounded them at a restaurant in Canberra on Thursday.

Ms Gillard, dragged by her bodyguard, stumbled and lost a shoe in a dramatic rush to her car.

Supporters of the city's Aboriginal Tent Embassy were apparently angered by comments Mr Abbott had made earlier.

He had questioned the relevance of the camp in a TV interview, in light of current plans to recognise indigenous people in the country's constitution. The protesters saw the remarks as suggesting that it was time for the camp to come down.

On Friday, a group of more than 200 activists marched on Parliament House, blocking a main road in the capital, chanting "always has been always will be Aboriginal land", Australian media reports.

Police retreated as the protesters approached and stopped outside the front door. Some in the group burnt the Australian flag to loud cheers. They marched away after about an hour.

Comments 'misinterpreted'

Indigenous leaders expressed shock at the incident on Thursday and ''disrespect'' shown to the prime minister.

image captionOpposition leader Tony Abbott says his comments have been "misinterpreted"

"While we need to acknowledge that there's a real anger, frustration and hurt that exists in some indigenous communities around Australia, we must not give in to aggressive and disrespectful actions ourselves," Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda told ABC radio.

Another indigenous leader, Warren Mundine, called for those responsible to ''feel the full force of the law''.

"No human being, let alone the prime minister of this country, should be treated in such a way," said the former president of the Australian Labor Party.

On Friday, Mr Abbott defended his comments as "perfectly reasonable" and said they were misinterpreted - he did not say the camp should be taken down.

''I never said that and I don't think that," he said. "I ask you please, I ask you very respectfully, judge me by what I said.''

The tent embassy was established in 1972 by four men as a protest against the prime minister of the time's refusal to acknowledge indigenous land rights.

Supporters had gathered for a three-day Corroborree for Sovereignty to mark the 40th anniversary.

About 200 angry protesters surrounded the Lobby restaurant, banging on the glass and chanting ''racist'' and ''shame''. Riot police were called to escort Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott out.

Speaking at an Australia Day function at her official residence after the incident, Ms Gillard said she was fine.

"I am made of pretty tough stuff and the police did a great job."

On Friday, Tent Embassy spokesman Mark McMurtrie hit out at police on ABC News Breakfast.

"The only violence you can see came from the police, so don't say it was a violent protest, it was a violent reaction to the protest," he said.

"We went there to ask her [the prime minister] and Mr Abbott to come down and speak to us, that's all we went there for. We went there [peacefully].''

An indigenous leader, Chris Graham of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, told ABC that ''an offer has also been made for the prime minister to come to the embassy to collect her shoe''.

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