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Former PM Tony Abbott head-butted during Australia's same-sex marriage campaign

A man from the Australian state of Tasmania has been arrested on suspicion of head-butting former prime minister Tony Abbott. The conservative politician was campaigning against the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Tasmanian police said they arrested a 38-year-old man with "one count of common assault following a police investigation into a complaint made by Tony Abbott." 

Police said the man was wearing a "yes" badge in support of same-sex marriage. The incident took place as Abbott was leaving a meeting at a local newspaper office in Tasmania's capital, Hobart, on Thursday night. Abbott told reporters outside his hotel on Friday that the man had called over to him as if seeking a handshake.

"I held out my hand. He grabbed my hand and turned it into a head-butt. Now, he was, of course, wearing a 'yes' badge," Abbott told reporters. "I worry about the brave new world of same-sex marriage if this is how some of the people who are most enthusiastically working for it are behaving with such bullying and intimidatory fashion."

Australian Labour opposition leader Bill Shorten, an ideological opponent of Abbott's and supporter of same-sex marriage, called the incident "terrible" on Twitter, saying that "violence like this is never acceptable." 

The man was released on bail and is expected to appear in court on October 23 facing a charge of common assault.

Watch video 00:53

Rally to legalize same-sex marriage in Australia

Abbott against same-sex marriage

Australia is currently holding a postal survey — one that is not legally binding — asking voters whether to change the law to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. Roughly 16 million Australians are eligible to take part in the "yes" or "no" vote.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, of the Liberal Party like Abbott, has promised to hold a parliamentary vote on the issue if the public calls for gay marriage to be legalized.

Read more:

Tens of thousands march in Australia for same-sex marriage ahead of postal vote

Australia gay rights advocates take court action against public survey

Abbott, who was Australia's prime minister from 2013 to 2015, has been campaigning for the "no" side of the vote. Eric Abetz, a German-born Australian senator and Abbott's colleague, told Australian broadcaster ABC on Friday that the incident highlighted "yet again another example of the ugliness of the 'Yes' campaign."

"This is just a bit of a harbinger of what is likely to occur, and it's not the sort of Australia I want," he said.

Turnbull, who is a supporter of same-sex marriage, condemned the alleged head-butt, saying "one incident is one too many."

"However, it's important to remember that overwhelmingly Australians are engaging in this debate respectfully and harmoniously," he said.

dv/msh (AFP, dpa)

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