Police seek to stop third night of Sydney unrest
By Michael Perry
SYDNEY (Reuters) – More than 450 policemen, four times the
usual number, will patrol 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.
Officials also said the state parliament of New South Wales
(NSW) was being called into emergency session on Thursday to
give police special powers to “lockdown” parts of Sydney,
Australia’s biggest city, to stop the unrest.
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 move comes after gangs of youths, mainly of Middle
Eastern background, attacked several people with baseball bats,
vandalised cars and were involved in rock-throwing skirmishes
with police for a second night on Monday, officials said.
Police also said they found 30 Molotov cocktails and crates
of rocks stockpiled on rooftops, as hundreds of local 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
“These criminals have declared war on our society and we
are not going to let them win,” said NSW premier Morris Iemma.
“You will not take control of our streets,” he said while
announcing the special police powers similar to those for
security during the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
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.
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.
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
Police said white supremacists incited violence at
Sydney’s Lebanese youths struck back on Sunday night,
smashing cars, assaulting people and fighting police in several
different suburbs, police said.
On Monday night, hundreds of Muslims were involved in an
angry standoff with police outside a Sydney mosque in the
western suburbs. Up to 25 cars with youths then drove to
Cronulla and used baseball bats to damage cars and smash
windows, police said.
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 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.”
Prime Minister John Howard again called 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,” stressing 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.
Melbourne University language professor Michael Clyne said
the Iraq war had fueled a sense of alienation. “It is very
difficult to define a war against terror, so it means anyone
can paint their own enemies,” Clyne said.
But some politicians laid the blame squarely on racism.
“Sadly if you scratch Australians we are a racist society,
it is only in the last 40-odd years that we have got rid of the
White Australia (immigration) policy,” said Labor opposition
politician Harry Quick on television. “We have reached a
pressure cooker stage here. People of ethnic minority in
Australia are just taking things into their own hands.”