December 17, 2005

Australian police block beaches fearing violence

By James Regan

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police set up road blocks and
searched cars heading for Sydney's beaches on Saturday to
prevent a second weekend of racial violence between ethnic
Lebanese youths and local surfers.

Australians have been told to stay away from beaches in
three cities this weekend, especially Sydney where the
checkpoints created traffic jams and left some of the city's
summer playgrounds subdued on a sweltering day a week before

"This is not a normal weekend," Deputy Commissioner Andrew
Scipione of New South Wales state police told reporters, adding
that about 1,500 police were deployed to trouble spots.

"If nothing was to happen this weekend, we would deem our
operation a success."

The clashes erupted last weekend in Cronulla beach, in
Sydney's south, where thousands of white Australians attacked
people of Middle East appearance and Lebanese and Muslim youths
retaliated with two nights of violence.

Cronulla was quiet on Saturday, with just a sprinkling of
sun-worshippers and surfers, but Scipione said police had
"strong intelligence" that some groups planned disruptions on
Sunday, possibly including neo-Nazis and white supremacist

By Sunday, there will be about 2,000 police on Sydney's
beaches, Scipione said.

"We will be taking this very seriously," he said. "If you
go there, you will be stopped ... We have never had to deal
with a situation like this in the past."

Local media has portrayed the violence as a complicated
clash of races and sub-cultures, starting with tension between
Sydney's territorial surfing gangs and groups of Muslim youths
using the same beaches. It then drew in white supremacists who
used the tension to pursue a wider, racist agenda.

During the violence, beach-goers have been attacked with
crowbars, kicked and punched. On Thursday, a Molotov cocktail
was thrown at police. No one has been killed or seriously

Racist text messages and e-mails have been circulating
calling for violence this Sunday and local media has reported
talk of Lebanese youths calling themselves the "Lions of
Lebanon" coming from across the country to fight at the beaches
this weekend.

Police also patrolled beaches north and south of Sydney
along a 200 km (120 mile) stretch of coastline, though there
were no reports of violence on Saturday.

"It's like a normal day with surfers out and people walking
around in boardies (shorts)," said Dena Smith, who was at Bondi
Beach, one of Sydney's most popular summer destinations.