December 4, 2007 / 2:21 AM / 11 years ago

Aborigines armed with spears riot in Australia

SYDNEY (Reuters) - About 200 people armed with spears, knives and sticks, rioted in an Australian outback aboriginal town after an argument in a tavern, police said on Tuesday.

The argument, possibly between feuding families, started in the tavern at Aurukun, an isolated aboriginal community in northern Queensland state, on Monday.

“The argument started in the tavern and moved onto the street where about 200 people, some armed with spears, sticks and knives, started fighting,” a police spokesman told Reuters.

“One man suffered serious head injuries when he was attacked by three people,” he said.

A police tactical response squad was flown to Aurukun overnight to help stop the fighting.

“We do not yet know what started it. It could be something to do with feuding families,” said the police spokesman.

“We may transport people out of there in a view to talking to them, but if there was alcohol involved we will have to wait until they sober up.”

Aurukun has been hit by a number of alcohol-fuelled riots in recent years.

Australia’s 460,000 Aborigines make up 2 percent of the 20 million population and have a life expectancy 17 years less than white Australians. They have far higher rates of unemployment, imprisonment, alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence.

A report this year found a “river of grog” or alcohol was destroying black communities in the Northern Territory and fuelling violence against women and children.

The government sent police and troops to stop the violence and banned alcohol in the aboriginal camps.

In an effort to stem alcohol abuse the Aurukun Shire Council runs the town’s only tavern, decrees all alcohol must be consumed in the tavern, and has banned alcohol being brought into town.

But “grog runners” brought alcohol into Aurukun on a boat in September, fuelling a riot by some 200 people, said local media.

Supplying alcohol to aboriginal communities is big business, just like the prohibition-era in the United States, with a case of beer selling for up to A$120 (US$105), compared with a normal retail price of about A$40, said the Courier-Mail newspaper.

Aurukun leaders have told the media that alcohol is “tearing them apart”. An Aurukun man was jailed last Thursday for 20 months after biting a police officer’s thumb and tearing his shirt sleeve off in a struggle outside the tavern.

Editing by Sanjeev Miglani

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