Rumsfeld's Australia visit sparks protests

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Protester at the "Welcome Donald Rumsfeld" rally, Adelaide. November 17, 2005

United States Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was confronted with fierce criticism by 500 anti-war demonstrators at a rally on the steps outside South Australia's Parliament House today. Mr Rumsfeld and his delegation arrived at Adelaide Airport this morning amid tight security. Mr Rumsfeld and other senior members of the United States government will attend the Australia-United States Ministerial Meeting (AUSMIN), to be hosted by Defence Minister Robert Hill and Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer.

The rally, labelling Mr Rumsfeld a war criminal, also called for the freeing of Australian man David Hicks from Guantanamo Bay jail.

In a press conference held on Thursday, Defence Minister Robert Hill said that Hicks would probably be discussed, however he is not on the agenda. When asked why, Mr Hill replied, "Because the trial of David Hicks in the United States, allegations that he breached US law, is not a matter of national security between Australia and the United States. But because he came from Adelaide, I have no doubt that the issue will be raised. And we would say what we have been saying, which is that we would like to see the trial progressed as quickly as possible."

Australian Democrats SA leader Sandra Kanck said the rally was originally intended to protest at the proposed new terror laws.

"We would not need terror laws if our Prime Minister had not tied us to the coat tails of George W Bush and Donald Rumsfeld," she said. "I have been delighted to hear much sedition here today and I have been delighted to see placards that are saying seditious things. "But by Christmas this may not be allowed in our democracy."

The government has previously rejected such criticism of the proposed anti-terror laws, arguing that protest and free speech will not be affected. Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock said in an interview last week that "there is very clear protection of fair comment." He also said that criticism of the new legislation is based on a misunderstanding of the role of definitions in legislation.

"Most of the arguments I've seen ... has been predicated on a view that if you look at the definition of ‘seditious intent' which is for definitional purposes, that that is in fact constituting an offence. It is not one of the offences. And to use ‘seditious intent' as a basis for looking at what people would be prosecuted for misunderstands basic statutory interpretation," Mr Ruddock said.

Strict security precautions ensured demonstrators could not get near Mr Rumsfeld, who is in Adelaide for ministerial talks between the US and Australian governments.

South Australian Greens MP Kris Hanna said Mr Rumsfeld was a symbol of that power and money which runs the United States and Australia. "They are willing to kill, they are willing to murder innocent civilians by the tens of thousands to exploit the resources of other countries and sacrifice even their own soldiers for these goals of war and expropriation."

Deputy US Secretary of State Bob Zoellick will also take part. Police in Adelaide have thrown a tight security net around the conference venue and hotel where the guests will stay, with up to 500 officers involved.

Yesterday, SA's assistant police commissioner described Mr Rumsfeld as one of the world's top terrorist targets.

Arrests

One man at the rally was removed by police and faces a disorderly conduct charge. South Australian police confirmed the 24-year-old man was removed from the protest outside the state parliament building, about 5pm (CDST).

"A 24-year-old man has been removed from the parliament house area and reported for disorderly behaviour," Superintendent Neil Smith said tonight. "He will receive a summons to appear in court at a later date."

Police removed and then later arrested the man who allegedly clashed with a sole pro-US demonstrator.

Ban on Rumsfeld protest removed

Parliamentary officials had originally banned the rally, saying demonstrators would be arrested if they went ahead with the protest. But South Australian parliamentary speaker Bob Such yesterday said the protest may proceed.

Dr Such said the initial ban was made on advice from police. But he said he was subsequently advised that he could consider applications from people wanting to protest during the visit.

The Rice Rumsfeld Reception Committee said the decision to lift the ban was a "victory for democracy and the right to dissent".

Sandra Kanck described the ban as foolish and a dangerous attack on free speech. Police said they would not tolerate violent protests.

Sources

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