December 11, 2005

Racial tensions spark Sydney beach violence

By Michael Perry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Racial tension erupted into violence on
a Sydney beach on Sunday when around 5,000 people, some yelling
racist chants, attacked youths of a Middle Eastern background,
saying they were defending their stretch of beach.

Thousands of local surfers and beachgoers gathered at
Cronulla Beach after two young lifesavers were attacked last
Sunday by a group of young men from Sydney's western suburbs.

Drunken youths chased and attacked Australians of Middle
East appearance at the beach in Sydney's south, sending some
cowering into shops and hotels for safety, as riot police and
dog squads tried to stop the violence.

By Sunday night, violence had spread to a second beach,
Maroubra, where men armed with baseball bats smashed cars.
Police said a man was stabbed in the back in south Sydney in
what media reports said appeared to be further racial violence.

As the crowd moved along the beach and foreshore, one man
on the back of a truck shouted: "No more Lebs (Lebanese)" -- a
chant picked up by the group around him. Others carried
Australian flags and dressed in Australian sports shirts.

"This is Australia, if they don't like it they can go
home," local resident Allan told reporters as he watched the

Police arrested 12 people for offensive behavior and
assault and blocked roads into Cronulla Beach, which was
littered with broken beer bottles.

"The behavior that has been seen down here at Cronulla
today is nothing short of disgusting and disgraceful. It is
certainly not the Australian way," said Police Assistant
Commissioner Mark Goodwin. He said some of those attacked were
of Arabic background but had been born in Australia.

Cronulla resident Tertia Harry wept as she watched the
violence. "I would expect scenes like this in South Africa but
not here," she told reporters. "In 2005, there should not be
this disgusting display of racism."


Cronulla Beach was the scene of an attack on two lifeguards
last week and a brawl later in the week in which youths turned
on a media crew.

Following the attacks on the volunteer lifesavers, a mobile
telephone text campaign started, calling on Cronulla locals to
rally this Sunday to protect their beach.

In response, a text campaign urged youths from western
Sydney to be at Cronulla this Sunday to protect their mates.

All week police and politicians have been calling for calm.

Sydney's Islamic community blamed the violence at Cronulla
Beach on "racist and irresponsible" sections of the media which
turned a common youth issue into an issue of ethnicity.

"Innocent people have been bashed as a result of this
simmering racial hatred," said Kaysar Trad, president of the
Islamic Friendship Association of Australia.