December 12, 2005

Australia PM urges tolerance after race violence

By Michael Perry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard
called for ethnic and religious tolerance on Monday after
racial violence, spurred on police say by white supremacists,
erupted in parts of Sydney.

Racial tension sparked violence on Cronulla Beach on Sunday
when around 5,000 people, some yelling racist chants, attacked
youths of Middle Eastern background, saying they were defending
their beach after lifesavers were attacked there last week.

Violence then spread to a second beach, Maroubra, where
scores of men armed with baseball bats smashed about 100 cars.

At Botany Bay, riot police confronted hundreds of youths
and police said a man was stabbed in the back in a southern
Sydney suburb in what media reports said appeared to be racial

"Attacking people on the basis of race and ethnicity is
totally unacceptable and should be repudiated by all
Australians, irrespective of background and politics," Howard
told a news conference on Monday, by which time the violence
had subsided.

New South Wales (NSW) police said a group of Neo-Nazis and
white supremacists stirred on the drunken crowd at Cronulla.

"There appears to be an element of white supremacists and
they really have no place in mainstream Australian society.
Those sort of characters are best placed in Berlin 1930s, not
in Cronulla 2005," NSW Police Minister Carl Scully told

On Sunday, mobs of drunken and angry youths, some draped in
Australian flags, shouted "No more Lebs (Lebanese)." The mobs
chased and attacked Australians of Middle East appearance,
rushing onto a train at one stage to fight.

More than 20 people were injured and 12 arrested.

Arabic and Muslim leaders said the violence had been
expected as Muslims had been subjected to racist taunts,
especially since the Iraq war and bombings on the Indonesian
island of Bali where many Australians were among the dead.

"Arab Australians have had to cope with vilification,
racism, abuse and fear of a racial backlash for a number of
years, but these riots will take that fear to a new level,"
said Australian Arabic Council chairman Roland Jabbour.

NSW state premier Morris Lemma said the violence was the
"ugly face of racism in Australia," but Howard said it did not
reflect a deeper problem with Australia's multi-cultural

"I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this
country," said Howard.

"It is important that we reaffirm our respect for freedom
of religion in this country, but it is also important that we
place greater emphasis on integration of people into the
broader community and the avoidance of tribalism," he said.
Government politician Bruce Baird said tensions between the
Anglo-Saxon and Muslim communities had simmered for years, with
Cronulla locals angry after six women from the area were killed
in the 2002 Bali bombings. Eighty eight Australians were among
202 people killed by the nightclub bombings.

"Where this riot took place is actually the site of where
we've got the Bali memorial for these women," Baird told local
radio. Asked if the riots were revenge for Bali and September
11 in the United States, Baird said: "I think so."

The Australian government is a staunch U.S. ally, sending
troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, and has used security as a
major issue in its last two election victories. But Howard
dismissed suggests his government's warnings about home-grown
terrorists had fueled the Cronulla rampage.

"It is impossible to know how individuals react but
everything this government's said about home-grown terrorism
has been totally justified," said Howard.

But Muslim leaders accused "politicians and media
commentators have been fanning the flames of racial tension."

"Fear and scaremongering have long been targeted toward the
Arab and Muslim communities, as politicians fueled by media
sensationalism, justify support for draconian agendas and
simplistic policies," said Arab council chairman Jabbour.

Underlying anger in the Middle Eastern and Anglo-Saxon
communities must be addressed to prevent more violence in
Sydney, warned NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney.

"I've sensed within some elements of this (Middle Eastern)
community a hate. It's a hate that I don't understand, I don't
understand it as a man," Moroney told local television.