December 18, 2005

Christmas security crackdown on Sydney beaches

By Michael Perry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A security crackdown on Sydney's beaches
will be extended over Christmas after further racial violence
over the weekend was averted with police arresting seven men
with Molotov cocktails and confiscating scores of weapons.

Police Commissioner Ken Moroney said on Monday that as calm
returned to the beaches, police numbers would be reduced -- but
800 officers would be scheduled on duty until the end of
January to deal with the threat of violence.

"I will continue this operation for as long as it takes to
bring about that restoration of order," Moroney told reporters.

In the biggest security operation since the Sydney 2000
Olympics, some 2,000 police patrolled beaches on foot and
horseback and in cars and boats in three cities on Sunday.

Beaches, normally packed with tourists a week before
Christmas, were almost deserted and beachside cafes half empty.

A decision is yet be made on whether to allow Bondi Beach's
famous Christmas Day beach party, which attracts thousands of
backpacking foreign tourists, to go ahead, said New South Wales
state premier Morris Iemma. Several beach Christmas parties,
some held by volunteer surf lifeguards, have already been

"This is a fight for order and control of our streets,"
Iemma told a news conference. "There are hooligans out there
who believe they have the right to determine who goes to
beaches and streets and who will control parts of our parks and
our streets."

"That is not something we can tolerate," he said.


Racial violence first flared on December 11 on Sydney's
southern beach of Cronulla, a mainly white beachside community.
A large crowd stirred on by white supremacists and fueled with
alcohol turned on anyone of Middle East appearance.

The crowd said they were defending their beach from ethnic
Lebanese youth whom they blamed for a recent attack on life
guards. Lebanese youths retaliated over two nights, attacking
people and vandalizing cars in several suburbs.

Although calm returned to Sydney late last week, mobile
telephone text messages continued to call for more racial
violence. Police warned people to stay away from beaches in
three cities -- Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong.

They "locked down" Sydney's Bondi Beach and the suburb of
Brighton-le-Sands near Sydney airport on Sunday after people
were arrested carrying Molotov cocktails.

Five people north of Cronulla had a 25-liter (5-gallon)
drum of petrol in their car, as well as condoms for making
Molotov cocktails, police said. They also found two men with
bottles of petrol on a Bondi bus.

Police at roadblocks also seized scores of knives, clubs
spiked with nails, steel pikes and knuckle-dusters.

"We feel that the police...have stopped potential disasters
from happening in and around our beachside suburbs," Assistant
Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione told local television.

Scipione said he hoped Sydney would return to normality
this week in the run up to Christmas on December 25.

"Our intelligence at the moment tells us we would be
expecting to be going back to a normal situation," he said.
"But we need to make sure we remain vigilant."