Former Australian parliament damaged by protest fire

AFP , Thursday 30 Dec 2021

Australia's former parliament building caught fire during a rights protest Thursday, officials said, with the flames causing limited damage.

Old Parliament House in Canberra, Australia
Protesters stand in front of the fire-damaged entrance doors to Old Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. A fire on the steps of Old Parliament House has caused extensive damage to the front of the building. (AP)

The blaze occurred when police broke up a traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremony by a small number of activists at the building's entrance.

The Canberra building was home to the country's federal parliament from 1927 to 1988 and now houses the Museum of Australian Democracy.

The museum said in a statement that it is "closed until further notice while we address fire damage caused by protesters today".

There was no immediate news about the extent of the damage, but images showed flames and smoke coming from wooden double-doors at the building's entrance.

The vast majority of the edifice remained untouched, and the blaze was said to have been quickly extinguished.

Activist Albert Hartnett said in a Facebook post that police had used pepper spray to break up the demonstration, which he alleged had caused the roof of a portico to catch fire.

The National Heritage Register-listed building has been the scene of a series of protests by an "Aboriginal Tent Embassy" in recent weeks.

Past protests included lighting a fire by the building's doors and were said to have been linked to so-called sovereign citizen groups.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was "disgusted" and "appalled" by an attack on what he called a symbol of democracy.

"People should face the consequence of their actions," he said.

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