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Australian police turn out to prevent rioting

More than 450 police, four times the usual number, patrolled Sydney’s streets on Tuesday to prevent a third night of racial violence by youth gangs who have attacked people, smashed cars and hurled rocks at police.
Police talk with teenagers in North Cronulla in Sydney
Police talk with teenagers Tuesday in Sydney as more than four times the usual number patrolled the streets to prevent a third night of racial violence. Will Burgess / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

More than 450 police, four times the usual number, patrolled Sydney’s streets on Tuesday to prevent a third night of racial violence by youth gangs who have attacked people, smashed cars and hurled rocks at police.

As rain fell on Sydney on Tuesday night, there were no reports of trouble as police checked cars at road blocks in suburbs scarred by racial violence in the previous two nights.

The New South Wales state parliament was being called into emergency session on Thursday to give police special powers to “lock down” parts of Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, to stop the unrest, officials said.

Police will also be allowed to ban consumption of alcohol in areas of unrest by shutting down licensed premises and prohibiting anyone from carrying liquor.

The state government will also increase the jail term for rioting from five to 15 years and double the penalty for affray, fighting in public, to 10 years.

“These criminals have declared war on our society and we are not going to let them win,” NSW premier Morris Iemma said.

“You will not take control of our streets,” he said while announcing the special police powers similar to those given during the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Racial violence erupted at Sydney’s Cronulla Beach on Sunday when some 5,000 people, some yelling racist chants, attacked youths of Middle Eastern background. Police said white supremacists incited it.

Drunk mobs of youths, some wrapped in Australian flags, said they were defending their beach after lifesavers were attacked. They believe the attackers were of Lebanese background.

On Monday, gangs of youths, mainly of Middle Eastern background, attacked several people with baseball bats, vandalized cars and were involved in rock-throwing skirmishes with police for a second night, officials said.

Police said they found 30 Molotov cocktails and crates of rocks on rooftops as hundreds of surfers gathered at Maroubra Beach.

Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop George Pell said bullets were fired at a school staging Christmas carols in Sydney’s west on Monday night.

Retaliatory strikes
Australian media reported that mobile telephone text messages from Australians of Anglo-Saxon and Middle East backgrounds were both calling for revenge attacks to continue.

Islamic youth leader Fadi Abdul Rahman said further trouble could be brewing in Sydney as Muslim youths were angry, believing police were not treating them fairly.

“They feel they have been dealt with by the authorities differently to the way Anglos have been dealt with,” he said.

“They feel injustice and they feel angry about it.”

Police said a text message calling on people to start ”cracking skulls” had been received on the Gold Coast tourist strip in the tropical northern state of Queensland.

“This Sunday is our turn to have a go and fight for the Gold Coast. These grease ball monkeys with their gold chains and fully sick cars need to know that we’re not copping any,” local media quoted the message as saying.

Attacks on Tuesday on a Middle Eastern family in Perth in western Australia, a Lebanese Australian taxi driver in Adelaide in south Australia and Islamic offices in the state of Victoria caused concerns the violence may be spreading across Australia.

Prime Minister John Howard called again on Tuesday for calm and tolerance, but again refused to describe the violence as racist, instead labeling it a law and order issue and “domestic discord,” saying Australia was not a racist nation.

The racial violence has prompted criticism of Australia’s multi-cultural immigration policy, with commentators saying ethnic differences have been fostered for many years.

Many social and ethnic leaders said the violence was primarily “gang warfare” and not purely race riots and that the youths involved felt economically and socially disadvantaged.

But some politicians laid the blame squarely on racism.

“We are just getting a sample of what happened in France a few months ago,” said Labor opposition politician Harry Quick.

“We have reached a pressure cooker stage here. People of ethnic minority in Australia are just taking things into their own hands.”