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Sunday, 3 December, 2000, 05:31 GMT
Mass march for aborigines
Aborigine man
The UN has expressed concern over the treatment of aborigines
By Red Harrison in Sydney

Thousands of people in Australia have been marching through the cities of Melbourne and Perth in a symbolic gesture of support for the country's aborigines.

In Melbourne, an estimated 200,000 people waving banners, balloons and coloured flags blocked the heart of the city for hours.

Aborigines in chains
Injustice has gone on for generations, say critics
Led by an array of political, indigenous and civic leaders as well as representatives of churches, trade unions, students and ethnic groups, the march indicated what aboriginal leaders say is overwhelming support for a treaty between black and white Australia which recognises and apologises for the injustices of the past.

In October, international aid organisation Oxfam criticised Australia for failing to protect the basic rights of indigenous Australians.

One day you'll ... realise that you're part of history, you're part of a turning point in this history of this country

Geoffrey Clark, Australian Government
The report said Australia was the only country in the world with a constitution that allows racial discrimination.

In another attack in July, Australia was criticised for its treatment of Aborigines by a UN Human Rights Committee.

Aborigines have far lower life expectancy than others in Australia
The committee expressed concern at the marginalisation and discrimination suffered by Aborigines in Australian society.

Geoffrey Clark, chairman of the government's senior aboriginal authority, says marchers should remember this day for the rest of their lives.

"It's something that as a small child you'll remember - to be able to walk down the street with your family.

"And one day you'll sit back and reflect as to why and the reasons behind that and you'll realise that you're part of history, you're part of a turning point in this history of this country, where we're now forged together as a united nation."

Among the political leaders from all parties, the Prime Minister, John Howard, was notably absent.

Mr Howard refuses to apologise to aborigines for events that happened before he was born.

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See also:

24 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Aborigines attack welfare culture
05 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australian minister sparks race row
25 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australia rejects UN racism report
28 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Reconciliation deadline dropped
10 Aug 99 | Asia-Pacific
Lost childhood of the 'stolen generation'
04 Aug 99 | Asia-Pacific
High level of trauma among Aborigines
11 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vivid memories of a 'stolen generation'
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