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Australia PM Tony Abbott under fire for knighting Prince Philip

Aussies were celebrating their national holiday when Australian Prime MInister Tony Abbott announced his decision to knight a famously gaffe-prone British royal.

By Kate Stanton
Australia PM Tony Abbott under fire for knighting Prince Philip

CANBERRA, Australia, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott sparked national outrage on Monday when he awarded Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth's 93-year-old husband, with an Australian knighthood.

"Prince Philip has been a great servant of Australia," Abbott said at a ceremony celebrating Australia Day, a national holiday. "I'm just really pleased that in his 90s, towards the end of a life of service and duty, we in this country are able to properly acknowledge what he's done for us."

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Abbott, who was born in London, controversially reinstated knight and dame honors last March. The Order of Australia, the nation's top honor, is meant to recognize "extraordinary and pre-eminent achievement and merit in service to Australia or humanity at large."

But the decision to knight Prince Philip -- who once asked an Aboriginal businessman, "Do you still throw spears at each other?" -- prompted widespread criticism.

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"Is it April Fool's Day?" read The Sydney Morning Herald's headline.

"Sending an Australian title to a royal who has more titles than the closing ceremony of the Oscars is politically indefensible," wrote The Australian's political editor, Dennis Shanahan.

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Opposition Leader Bill Shorten described Prince Philip as "distinguished," but said Abbott was behind the times.

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"I think that on Australia Day, where we're talking about Australia, Australian identity, the government's managed to find a British royal to give a medal to, a knighthood to," Shorten said. "I've just been at citizenship functions, local breakfasts -- some people there wondered whether it was an Australia Day hoax."

Abbott drew some support from his own party, including Defense Minister Kevin Andrews.

"It doesn't cost us anything to give him this award," Andrews said. "How else do we say, in a sense, thank you to someone who's given six decades of public service?"

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Australian media outlets and social media users, however, seized on the opportunity to resurrect the gaffe-prone duke of Edinburgh's most infamous missteps.

In 1986, for example, he told a British student studying in China: "If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed."

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