BRISBANE - More than 30 Aboriginal rights activists were arrested Wednesday in Brisbane after refusing an order to dismantle their protest camp, prompting accusations of excessive police force.
Queensland state police chief, Superintendent Brent Carter, said Brisbane City Council had asked officers to move the protesters on from central Musgrave Park to make way for a Greek community festival this weekend.
Occupants had declared the camp, which has stood in the park for about two months, an Aboriginal tent embassy erected to protest against mining on traditional lands.
But it has expanded in recent weeks and organisers of the Greek festival were concerned about its impact on the weekend's activities.
Two hours of negotiation failed to reach a compromise and "regrettably some arrests were made" Carter told reporters.
"Unfortunately, it came to a position where we could not gain any traction," he said.
Carter said the morning's events had been peaceful but protesters accused police of "overkill", with more than 200 officers sent to break up the 80-strong camp.
"They knocked someone clean out (and) they smashed someone up against a barricade," camp spokesman Chris Moreton told Australian Associated Press.
The state's deputy police commissioner Ian Stewart denied the response was excessive.
"You can't professionally deal with these situations with just a few police," he said.
Brisbane mayor Graham Quirk said he had warned local Aboriginal elders that people were going to be evicted from the camp and blamed "out-of-towners" for the trouble.
"The people engaged in the tent city are coordinated and organised by out-of-towners. They did not have the full support of the elders of this city by any means," he said.
Aborigines, whose cultures stretch back tens of thousands of years, are Australia's most disadvantaged minority, with shorter life expectancy and much higher rates of imprisonment and disease than the general population.
Race relations have come under scrutiny recently after two joyriding Aboriginal teenagers were shot by police in Sydney in April, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard was caught up in an indigenous rights protest in January.