Racial tensions spark Sydney beach violence
SYDNEY, Monday (Reuters, AFP) - Racial tension erupted into violence
on a Sydney beach when around 5,000 people, some yelling racist chants,
attacked youths of a Middle Eastern background, saying they were
defending their stretch of beach.
Thousands of local surfers and beachgoers gathered at Cronulla Beach
after two young lifesavers were attacked last Sunday by a group of young
men from Sydney's western suburbs.
Drunken youths chased and attacked Australians of Middle East
appearance at the beach in Sydney's south, sending some cowering into
shops and hotels for safety, as riot police and dog squads tried to stop
Twenty-five people were injured and 16 were arrested as the race
riots spread to several suburbs, police said Monday.
Islamic and political leaders condemned the violence, which was
launched by mobs of youths who attacked people of Middle Eastern
appearance on Cronulla beach in south Sydney on Sunday.
Six police officers were injured as they tried to quell the violence,
and two ambulance officers were also hurt.
By Sunday night, violence had spread to a second beach, Maroubra,
where men armed with baseball bats smashed cars. Police said a man was
stabbed in the back in south Sydney in what media reports said appeared
to be further racial violence.
As the crowd moved along the beach and foreshore, one man on the back
of a truck shouted: "No more Lebs (Lebanese)" - a chant picked up by the
group around him. Others carried Australian flags and dressed in
Australian sports shirts.
"This is Australia, if they don't like it they can go home," local
resident Allan told reporters as he watched the violence.New South Wales
state premier Morris Iemma described the violence at Cronulla beach as
"I saw yesterday people trying to hide behind the Australian flag;
well they are cowards whose behaviour will not be tolerated," Iemma told
Channel Nine television.
Iemma said he planned to bring together community leaders for
discussions about how to prevent further violence. Police Commissioner
Ken Moroney said he was disgusted by the violence.
"It's not Australian to adopt a mob mentality and then amongst other
things assault women - I have never in all my life known of anything
that's so un-Australian," he said.
The president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia,
Keysar Trad, called on the police to "use the full extent of the law on
these criminal thugs who behaved in the way that they did".
The director of the Forum on Australia's Islamic Relations, Kuranda
Seyit, said in a statement: "We have over 3,000 kilometres of beaches on
the east coast, there's plenty of sand and ocean there for everyone.
"What happened to the Australian idea of a fair go and tolerance?"
"The behaviour that has been seen down here at Cronulla today is
nothing short of disgusting and disgraceful. It is certainly not the
Australian way," said Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Goodwin. He
said some of those attacked were of Arabic background but had been born
Cronulla resident Tertia Harry wept as she watched the violence. "I
would expect scenes like this in South Africa but not here," she told
reporters. "In 2005, there should not be this disgusting display of
Cronulla Beach was the scene of an attack on two lifeguards last week
and a brawl later in the week in which youths turned on a media crew.
Following the attacks on the volunteer lifesavers, a mobile telephone
text campaign started, calling on Cronulla locals to rally this Sunday
to protect their beach.
In response, a text campaign urged youths from western Sydney to be
at Cronulla this Sunday to protect their mates.
All week police and politicians have been calling for calm.
Sydney's Islamic community blamed the violence at Cronulla Beach on
"racist and irresponsible" sections of the media which turned a common
youth issue into an issue of ethnicity.
"Innocent people have been bashed as a result of this simmering
racial hatred," said Kaysar Trad, president of the Islamic Friendship
Association of Australia.