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Sunday, April 2, 2000
Aboriginals warn of violent protests during Olympics

By MIKE CORDER -- Associated Press

  SYDNEY, Australia -- Activists are threatening violent protests at the Sydney Olympics over a government report that plays down the number of Aborigines taken from their families in the 1900s under official policy.

  For months, Aboriginal campaigners have said they would use the Olympics in September and the intense media attention that the games generate to highlight the plight of their people. But until the weekend, they had stressed any protest would be peaceful.

  Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron, the report's author, suggested that accounts of the estimated 100,000 Aboriginal children taken by authorities between 1910 and the 1970s -- known as the "stolen generation" -- were exaggerated.

  "A generation is all people born around that period," he told Australia's Channel Nine television today. "It didn't affect all Aboriginal people and that's the point that I'm making in my submission."

  Under the policy, the children were taken from their families in the belief that Aborigines were doomed and that saving the children was the only humane alternative. Light-skinned Aboriginal children were given to white families for adoption, while dark-skinned children were put in orphanages.

  The government says 10 percent of Aborigines were affected by the policy. It did not say how many people that equaled.

  Aboriginals were incensed by the report.

  Protests at the Olympics are "going to be very violent," Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins told the BBC on Sunday in an interview rebroadcast in Australia.

  "We are telling all the British people, please, don't come over. If you want to see burning cars and burning buildings, then come over," he said. "Enjoy yourself."

  Perkins later toned down his comments, but when asked about protests, he told Channel Nine. "It's 'Burn, baby, burn' from now on. Anything can happen."

  The report and Herron's defense of it have plunged the relationship between Prime Minister John Howard's government and Aborigines to an all-time low.

  Howard has been under fire in recent weeks for dropping a year-end deadline to achieve reconciliation between black and white Australia, and for refusing to overrule mandatory sentencing laws in parts of Australia which are seen as discriminating against Aborigines.

  "These are difficult issues; they are not resolved by sloganeering on either side; they are not resolved by using exaggerated claims on either side of the debate," Howard said, attempting to defuse the explosive debate.

  But while describing the policy of separating families as "quite unacceptable and quite distasteful," he also insisted Herron's report was accurate.

  News of the report first surfaced Saturday, when the Daily Telegraph in Sydney quoted the document as saying, "There was never a generation of stolen children."

  Lowitja O'Donoghue, chairwoman of an Aboriginal advisory committee set up by Sydney Olympics organizers, said Aborigines should protest at Australia's parliament.

  "I think it matters not whether it was a generation, (or) whether it was 10 percent, but the policy was wrong," she said. O'Donoghue was taken from her parents when she was 2 years old.

  Olympics officials refused comment.

  Opposition leader Kim Beazley said he understood the anger at the government's report, but he said the Olympics should be left alone by protesters.

  "I would strongly urge Aboriginal Australians to leave the Olympics alone," Beazley said. "The Olympics ought to be off limits. It ought to be an occasion of joy for all Australians and a chance to show off what good hosts we can be."

  Geoff Clark, chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Commission, predicted heightened tensions.

  "It's not for me to say there will be or won't be violence," Clark said. "The fact is that violence is a part of demonstrations (but) what you need to do is be able to contain that, suggest to people that there shouldn't be violence, and that's been my call.

  "I would hope people would heed those suggestions."

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