Prince's attacker 'was prepared to die': Keating regrets the embarrassment to a 'good friend of Australia' following politically motivated attack on royal guest

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AS SECURITY tightened around the Prince of Wales in Australia yesterday, Paul Keating, the Prime Minister, said Australians had been embarrassed by Wednesday's scare in which a demonstrator fired blank starting-pistol shots near the Prince. Last night Mr Keating described Prince Charles as a good friend of Australia.

'I think we must reflect upon this,' he said in a television interview. 'We are all embarrassed when any good friend of Australia, any person such as this, is affronted in this way. Prince Charles is a good friend of this country and he should be treated with the respect and dignity that a good friend deserves.' Mr Keating praised Prince Charles for his calmness as the alleged assailant, David Kang, 23, a Cambodian university student, jumped from a crowd about six metres from the Prince in Sydney and ran towards him, firing shots from the pistol. 'His control in the circumstances, I think, reflected the professional attitude that he has . . . The important thing to record about this is that it was not an assassination attempt. It was a political demonstration.'

Asked about security arrangements for the Princess of Wales and reports that she planned to visit Australia, Mr Keating said: 'We'd discuss that. Most people who want to visit Australia are welcome, and that would include Princess Diana.' As the Prince resumed his itinerary yesterday, with visits to the New South Wales towns of Parkes and Forbes, Mr Kang appeared under heavy police guard in Sydney's central magistrate's court. He sat motionless, staring at the floor, as he was charged with threatening Prince Charles under an act which carries a 20-year prison sentence. The magistrate refused bail and remanded him in custody until next week.

The court heard two brief, conflicting versions of the motive behind Mr Kang's alleged action. Mr Kang's counsel said he had never meant any harm to anyone, and that he had run at the stage, where Prince Charles was about to speak to several thousand, as a stunt to draw attention to the plight of Cambodian boat people in Australian detention centres. According to his counsel, Mr Kang was frustrated by the lack of media attention for the boat people, some of whom have been held for four years. The Crown prosecutor told the court that Mr Kang had bought the starter pistol, a common type available for about pounds 7 in sports shops, specifically to use during Prince Charles's visit to Sydney. She said Mr Kang had written about 500 letters about the boat people to newspapers, church- people and world leaders, including President Clinton. He sent one to Prince Charles, and the Prince's private secretary had replied. 'In one letter, he indicated it was a cause he was prepared to die for,' the prosecutor said.

More than 100 boat people are detained in camps at Port Hedland, Western Australia, and Sydney as their legal claims for refugee status drag through Australian courts. Australia's policy of detaining the boat people, including women and children, for lengthy periods has been criticised by church leaders, judges and human rights activists.

However, leaders of Sydney's Cambodian community who have been involved in the campaign to free the detainees disowned Mr Kang yesterday, saying they had never heard of him. His father, Bob Kang, appeared briefly outside his Sydney home looking shaken and downcast. He expressed remorse for his son's action and described it as 'shocking'. A member of Mr Kang's family said he had once undergone psychiatric treatment.

Recriminations continued among Australian authorities yesterday over how Mr Kang could have sprinted across a clear six-metre space between the Prince and the crowd without being brought down by police and security guards before he reached the stage. It was one of Australia's most serious security lapses in many years. The New South Wales police force, which has responsibility for the Prince's security while he is in the state, argued that it was following guidelines from Buckingham Palace that the Prince did not want police between him and the crowd. But John Fahey, the New South Wales Premier, said yesterday he was unhappy with that explanation. Mr Fahey, one of the first on the stage to tackle Mr Kang, said: 'I regard it as unsatisfactory that a man can come through the crowd and actually make the stage. I have insisted that security for the Prince for the remainder of his visit in New South Wales be boosted.'

Security is expected to be tightened when the Prince goes on to Tasmania today and later to Western Australia and Queensland. Prince Charles looked relaxed as he met country folk in Parkes and Forbes yesterday. He shed his jacket in the intense heat and wore an Australian bush hat. His staff said he was 'not concerned' about security arrangements. Michael Heseltine, the President of the Board of Trade, said in Melbourne yesterday: 'There is a conflict and it's one which I know His Royal Highness feels particularly strongly about. He wants to actually get to know people.'

(Photograph omitted)