SYDNEY (Australia) – At least eight people have been arrested as violent clashes broke out in Sydney and Melbourne during the latest Reclaim Australia rallies.
About 500 police were stationed to separate several hundred Reclaim protesters and anti-racism campaigners at a rally in Melton, the proposed site of a mosque in Melbourne’s outskirts.
Seven people were arrested, including a 29-year-old who allegedly attacked a police horse and was subdued with capsicum spray, at the Melton demonstration. Three men were arrested for possessing a weapon and two other men, aged 22 and 44, were arrested for riotous behaviour.
The largest rally was in Melbourne, where Reclaim Australia demonstrators protested about the planned construction of a mosque.
The rally attracted about 1000 people, with 500 on each side, separated by around 500 police, some in riot gear.
“Muslims are welcome, racists are not”, counter-protesters from refugee and anti-racism groups responded.
Victoria Police acting Commander Alan Byrnes said three people were injured but the protest was largely peaceful.
“It’s always a bit disappointing to see people turn up with masks,” he said.
“You wonder what their motives are for doing that, but we think all in all it was fairly peaceful.”
Rallies in Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth were less violent but equally bizarre, with protesters turning up in costumes ranging from bunny suits to Star Wars stormtrooper outfits.
Some 250 people aligned with the Refugee Action Coalition, including parents with young children on their shoulders, chanted pro-diversity and pro-demonstration slogans.
At a rival rally at the opposite end of Martin Place, Reclaim Australia protesters held two minutes’ silence – broken by calls of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” – for victims of terrorism worldwide.
“What is the point in our dedicated Australian soldiers going to wars overseas and losing lives to keep our Australian values … when our government don’t respect the sacrifice they’re making,” said a speaker, Clare Smith.