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Australia : Thousands take to the streets over Timor

12 September 1999

Ordinary Australians took to the streets in their thousands today demanding urgent government action over the slaughter in East Timor.

Protesters stormed Prime Minister John Howard's Sydney office, blockaded airline terminals and maintained vigils as nation-wide anger continued to mount over the genocide in the violence- wracked region.

The anti-Indonesia demonstrations called on the Australian government to withdraw recognition of Indonesia's sovereignity of East Timor and to immediately send in armed peacekeeping forces.

About 20,000 protesters took over Sydney streets to broadcast their condemnation of Australia's refusal to act on peacekeeping forces without Indonesian permission and a UN mandate.

"Make the Australian government do what the Australian people want -- send troops in," these protesters chanted. Wielding banners emblazoned with slogans such as "Howard You Coward" and "East Timor -- Blood on Howard's hands" a breakaway group of protesters battered their way into the building containing Prime Minister John Howard's office.

To screams of "UN in, Indonesia out" the group of about 30 protesters rammed their way into the building, buckling the front door and occupying the lifts for a short time.

The break-in was a mere 15 minute episode during a five hour rally which featured demands for the federal government to cut all ties with Indonesia. It followed a CFMEU push for a national consumer boycott of Indonesian products and services.

Spokesman Andrew Ferguson also threatened Australian retailers they would be picketed if they did not take Indonesian goods off their shelves.

Meanwhile, dozens of building workers and East Timorese blocked Garuda's passenger check-in area at Melbourne Airport today, preventing many passengers from boarding a flight to Bali.

Channel Ten said the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), checked boarding passes at the departure gates, preventing those Bali-bound passenger from going through and cheering through those off to other destinations.

The flight took off, but many angry passengers were not aboard. Union spokesman Martin Kingham said: "We had a payload of 170 and of those 170 only four got on the plane".

And about 30 people maintained the continuing vigil outside the Indonesian Consulate in Melbourne's inner city Queens Road, following today's 150-strong free Timor rally.

In Brisbane, unionists, children and nuns were among well over 1,000 protesters who packed City Hall for a rally in support of East Timor.

Jose Teixiera, a spokesman for the Brisbane-based Timorese community group East Timor National Resistance Council, said one way of showing Indonesia how Australians felt about the atrocities in the troubled province was to call for the boycott of Indonesia at next year's Sydney Olympics.

He said that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) should be asked to examine whether it was "proper" for Indonesian athletes to compete against those from countries seeking Indonesia's withdrawal from East Timor.

And in Adelaide more than 500 people marched to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer's office, the Indonesian consulate and Parliament House, where a vigil began yesterday.

Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor group activist Emma Webb said the vigil would continue for as long as it took for peace to return to East Timor. Meanwhile, federal parliament is expected to consider a motion to recognise the sovereignty of East Timor.

Democrats senator Vicky Bourne told a Sydney protest she would ask Independent Peter Andren to put forward the motion at the next sitting of parliament.

Australia is at the forefront of international calls for a multinational peacekeeping force for East Timor and has offered to send up to 4,500 troops, but Mr Howard refuses to act without Indonesian permission and a UN mandate.

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