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Nauru asylum-seeker protest leaves several hurt

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ROD McGUIRK | July 19, 2013 07:21 PM EST | AP

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CANBERRA, Australia — A protest at an Australian-run immigration detention camp in Nauru turned violent Friday with several asylum seekers and guards injured in a rock-throwing riot, officials and a witness said.

Around 150 asylum seekers were involved in the unrest on the tiny Pacific atoll country, Australia's Immigration Department said in a statement.

An undisclosed number of asylum seekers and guards received medical treatment for injuries, the department said. Four asylum seekers were admitted to hospital, it said.

Clint Deidenang, a resident who witnessed the hour-long riot from the camp fence, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio said up to 1,000 local Nauruan men carrying machetes and steel pipes arrived to help police armed with batons and shields prevent the mostly Iranian asylum seekers from breaking out.

"There was massive confusion and commotion," Deidenang said. "There was lots of flying debris, flying objects, stones – anything that could be thrown by hand."

Deidenag described the unrest as the biggest riot he had ever seen on the island.

The department said there had been property damage, but provided no details. The camp was calm on Saturday, it said.

Deidenang and a police spokesman did not immediately return Associated Press's email and phone call by Saturday.

Australia is holding 545 asylum seekers on Nauru while their refugee claims are assessed. They had attempted to seek asylum in Australia.

Australia is attempting to deter asylum seekers from paying people-smugglers to bring them in rickety fishing boats to its shores by sending them to remote camps at Nauru, Papua New Guinea and the Australian territory of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

Christmas Island has been the scene of several violent and destructive protests by asylum seekers who want to be taken to the Australian mainland.

The department said the unrest was unrelated to an Australian government announcement Friday that future asylum seekers who attempt to arrive by boat will never be allowed to settle in Australia.