December 15, 2005

Police given power to “lockdown” parts of Sydney

By Michael Perry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An emergency sitting of parliament
passed special laws on Thursday allowing Sydney police to
"lockdown" parts of Australia's biggest city to stop racial
unrest. After two nights of racial violence in Sydney's
beachside suburbs this week, the New South Wales (NSW) state
parliament also increased the penalty for rioting from 10 to 15
years and doubled the sentence for affray to 10 years.

"Louts and criminals have effectively declared war on our
society and we are not going to let them undermine our way of
life," Morris Iemma, NSW state premier, told the emergency
sitting of parliament in Sydney.

Police were also given power to ban alcohol.

Sydney's racial violence erupted at Cronulla last Sunday
when some 3,000 people, some yelling racist chants, attacked
people of Middle East appearance, saying they were defending
their beach from Lebanese youth gangs. Police said white
supremacists incited violence at Cronulla.

Lebanese and Muslim youths retaliated with two nights of
violence in several different beachside suburbs.

For the past two nights Sydney has been calm, with more
than 450 police patrolling streets and erecting roadblocks to
check drivers moving into areas of previous unrest.

Racist mobile telephone text messages and emails continue
to circulate calling for violence this Sunday, despite calls
from leaders of surfing and Arab-Muslim communities for calm.

NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney urged people on
Thursday to ensure Sydney remained peaceful and to bring the
spirit of Christmas back to the city.

"The spirit of Christmas has simply disappeared out of this
city," he told reporters. "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 an extra 1,000 police would be on duty on
Saturday and an extra 1,500 on Sunday to prevent violence.

He said police were ready to immediately use their new
powers, which also allows them to stop and search people and
vehicles and seize vehicles and mobile telephones.

But Moroney urged people to go about their normal
end-of-year activities this weekend, including going to the

"There's no restriction on going to the beach," he said.

"There are certainly legal restrictions if you are going to
engage in unlawful conduct, riotous behavior, assault malicious
damage or whatever the case may be."