MELBOURNE (Australia) — Australian Labor Party’s leader, Bill Shorten, has condemned violence that erupted at rival rallies, particularly in Melbourne on Saturday, as anti-Islamisation and anti-racism groups clashed.
“There’s no place for violence in any protests or any expressions of freedom of speech,” Shorten told the Nine Network.
“You see rival groups saying they have a right to speak … but once it goes to violence, no one has the right to violence and protesting should never be violent.”
Shorten also said any suggestion that Muslims were planning to bring Sharia law to Australia was exaggerated.
“It was 50-60 years ago people said that the Irish Catholics or the Catholics were trying to take over the joint – and that wasn’t true either,” he said.
Reclaim Australia protesters held rallies to oppose “sharia law, halal tax and Islamisation”.
In Melbourne they were met with strong opposition from groups including Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative who returned verbal fire.
More than 3000 people clashed in Federation Square and blocked surrounding streets in the Melbourne CBD.
Hundreds of police formed barricades to separate protesters but scuffles still broke out and paramedics had to treat assault victims for minor injuries.
Victoria police arrested two men and one woman, with all three released pending summons.
A 30-year-old man was arrested for assault in Hobart, while two women were removed for breaching the peace in Sydney but not charged.
Sydney rally organiser Sarah Spearpoint denied the Reclaim Australia group was racist.
She said protesters had a problem with Islamic extremists who wanted to live by sharia law and who were also opposed by moderate Muslims.
But Tony Iltis was part of a smaller but passionate crowd that slammed the group.
“There is no possibility of sharia law in Australia, that is absolutely ridiculous,” he said.