Lawmakers in New South Wales state passed emergency laws Thursday giving police new powers to crack down on race rioters after days of unrest plagued Sydney’s southern beach suburbs.
In one of Australia’s worst outbreaks of racial violence, a mob of 5,000 white youths, many of them drunk, descended on Cronulla Beach on Sunday, fought with police and attacked people they believed were Arab.
The disturbances continued for three nights, escalating into retaliatory attacks and vandalism on churches, prompting New South Wales parliament to halt its summer recess for an emergency session Thursday.
Sydney is in New South Wales state.
The new police powers will take effect once the state governor approves them.
“The community believes that police should have the capacity — to use colloquial language — to move people on who are a potential nuisance,” Prime Minister John Howard said.
Under the law, police will be able to cordon off trouble spots and prevent vehicles from entering those areas for up to 48 hours. They also will be allowed to search people and vehicles, and seize vehicles and cell phones for up to a week.
Police also can prevent bars in trouble spots from selling alcohol for up to two days and can declare alcohol-free zones in the city.
Parliament also increased the maximum sentence for rioting from 10 years to 15 years.
“As long as these thugs, these hooligans, these hotheads and these criminals disrespect the law, as long as they refuse to show respect and responsibility, these powers will be used to the fullest extent,” New South Wales state Premier Morris Iemma said in parliament.
On Wednesday, Sydney police arrested 11 suspects on charges including possessing baseball bats, brass knuckles, a metal pole and a wooden club.
On Thursday night, the area around Cronulla was mostly quiet. Extra police were on duty at Cronulla, while at nearby Brighton-Le-Sands, scene of a racially motivated stabbing Sunday, there were few police and no crowds.
Extra police to be deployed
Police fear more violence this weekend and say an extra 1,000-1,500 officers will be deployed to Sydney’s southern suburbs.
A series of text messages, many of them believed to be hoaxes, also forced police around Australia to beef up their presence on the weekend. Extra police will be deployed at Adelaide’s popular Glenelg Beach and in Perth, Western Australia.
On the popular Gold Coast international tourism strip in Queensland, state Premier Peter Beattie said extra police would be on duty even though he believed a racist text message campaign was a hoax.
Restoring the 'spirit of Christmas'
In a show of religious unity, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils and local Muslim groups will meet Friday at a Protestant church in Auburn, where a church hall was destroyed Tuesday night in an arson attack suspected to be racially motivated.
State Police Commissioner Ken Moroney said the riots had destroyed the festive season for Australia’s largest city.
“The spirit of Christmas has simply disappeared out of this city and it is up to all of us, not only the police, but people of goodwill, to bring the spirit of Christmas back into this city,” Moroney said.