December 18, 2005

Sydney police seize weapons amid beach unrest fears

By Jim Regan

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police seized petrol bombs,
knives and iron bars around Sydney beaches on Sunday, along
with mobile phones used to spread racist messages, in a huge
security operation to prevent fresh inter-communal violence.

Police put an extra 500 police on the beaches of
Australia's biggest city, taking the total cordon to about

Officers patrolled on horseback and set up checkpoints
around some of Sydney's favorite summer playgrounds, including
Bondi Beach, where a peaceful holiday mood was edged by fears
of fresh violence between whites and ethnic Lebanese.

They screened cars at dozens of roadblocks, seizing knives,
clubs spiked with nails, steel pikes, knuckle-dusters and
bottles of petrol.

Police said they had found five people north of the mainly
white beachside community of Cronulla on Sunday with a 25-liter
(5- gallon) drum of petrol in their car, as well as condoms
for making fire bombs. They also found two men with bottles of
petrol on a Bondi bus.

"We will continue this operation for as long as it takes,"
New South Wales state police commissioner Ken Moroney told
reporters, adding that 60 arrests had been made since Friday.

"I don't think there will be any trouble today, not with
2,000 cops around," Louise Simpson, a young mother with blonde
hair in pig-tails, said beneath a postcard blue sky on Cronulla
beach, where the violence first erupted a week ago.

"But what's it going to be like in three or four weeks when
the cops go away?" she added as she walked with her husband and
daughter along the beach, with mounted police in the

Rioting broke out in Cronulla on December 11 after surfers
turned on ethnic Lebanese youths whom they blamed for a recent
attack on beach lifeguards.

"The moment the cops go, the trouble will start," said
Troy, 34, a jobless Cronulla surfer who supported the backlash.


The unrest revealed tensions between Sydney's territorial
surfing sub-culture, united in surfing shorts and wrap-around
sunglasses, and ethnic Lebanese youths from poorer western
Sydney who have become regular beachgoers.

"We got a text message from our boys to come down today,
but we don't want any trouble," said a young ethnic Lebanese
man, Ahmad, who wore a camouflage baseball cap backwards and
long baggy shorts with a mobile phone clipped to them.

From Punchbowl, an inland suburb of mainly Lebanese
immigrants, Ahmad showed the text message: "All Arabs unite to
let the Aussies know we can't be pushed around."

Overnight, four men hit a 32-year-old man with an iron bar
near an east Sydney beach, police said. Text-message threats of
racial violence also sparked seaside police patrols at opposite
sides of the country, in the east-coast tourist mecca of the
Gold Coast and on the west-coast beaches of Perth.

Police suspect the Sydney unrest has drawn in white
supremacists from around Australia and say some of the men
arrested for carrying weapons have driven to Sydney from other

The violence has hurt Australia's image, rekindling old
stereotypes of white Australians as racist, opposition Leader
Kim Beazley said. "We are not a racist country," he told local

In central Sydney, almost 2,000 people held a "United
Against Racism" rally. Some blamed Australian involvement in
the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq for a growing divide between
whites and Muslims.

"I have lived here for a long time but now I feel very
terrified and scared to walk down the street," said Sahar Dib,
44, wearing a headscarf. She and thousands of other Lebanese
fled to Australia in the 1970s when civil war broke out in

In Bondi, normally packed a week before Christmas, police
prowled the beach and seaborne special forces patrolled the

"Bondi has never been this quiet. It's sad to see such an
icon of Australia not being used because it's here for
everyone," said Dave Byron, taking part in a barbecue and
surfing contest.

(Additional reporting by Michael Perry and Mark Bendeich)