December 18, 2005

Police “lock down” two Sydney suburbs

By Jim Regan

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police "locked down" two
Sydney suburbs on Sunday night, allowing only residents through
roadblocks, fearing fresh outbreaks of racial violence after
seizing Molotov cocktails.

Police said Australia's famous Bondi Beach and the suburb
of Brighton-le-Sands near Sydney airport had been sealed off
after people were arrested carrying Molotov cocktails.

"Only residents can come into Bondi. They have to show
proof of residence, like a driver's license," a police
spokeswoman told Reuters.

Some 2,000 police patrolled Sydney's beachside suburbs on
Sunday, screening 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 Cronulla on
Sunday with a 25-liter (5- gallon) drum of petrol in their
car, as well as condoms for making Molotov cocktails. They also
found two men with bottles of petrol on a Bondi bus.

Police said the men arrested with Molotov cocktails were
not local residents.

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

The southern beach of Cronulla, a mainly white beachside
community, burst into rioting on December 11 when a large crowd
stirred on by white supremacists, and fueled with alcohol,
turned on anyone of Middle East appearance.

The angry crowd said they were defending their beach from
ethnic Lebanese youth whom they blamed for a recent attack on
beach life guards.

Lebanese youths retaliated over two nights, attacking
people and vandalizing cars in several suburbs.

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

Police on Friday issued an unprecedented warning for people
to stay away from beaches in three cities -- Sydney, Newcastle
and Wollongong -- saying they had intelligence people were
planning racial violence this weekend.

Police patrolled beaches on horseback all day on Sunday and
set up checkpoints at city beaches, where a peaceful holiday
mood was edged by fears of fresh violence.

"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, at Cronulla Beach.

"All Arabs unite to let the Aussies know we can't be pushed
around," read the text message on Ahmad's mobile phone.

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

"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.

White supremacists have added to the tension, though no one
has been killed or reported seriously injured in clashes so

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 Lebanon.

(Additional reporting by Michael Perry and Mark Bendeich)