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 Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Australia: Australians of Middle-Eastern Origin Targeted in Race Riots in Sydney


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New violence erupted in Sydney overnight in the wake of the Cronulla race riot, with gangs of men rampaging through the beachside suburb.

In what may be a reprisal for Sunday's mob attacks on Australians of Middle Eastern origin at Cronulla, cars carrying up to 50 men drove into the suburb last night, smashing car windows with baseball bats, witnesses said.

There were unconfirmed reports a person had been shot, reporters in the area saying they heard gunshots near the Northies Hotel.

Cronulla residents last night flooded the suburb's streets with some claiming they had been told by police they could carry weapons as long as they were discreet.

Six people have been arrested for affray and taken to Miranda and Sutherland police stations for questioning.

Ambulance officers also helped at least one injured man seen by reporters lying on the side of the road.

Fears were growing last night of an escalating cycle of violence and revenge in Sydney, with TV stations reporting text messages summoning Arabic men to Cronulla next Sunday.

Earlier yesterday evening, police had moved quickly to prevent violence at potential new flashpoints in the wake of Sunday's riot at Cronulla beach, which was one of the worst race-based clashes seen in Australia.

Police last night blocked off streets around Lakemba Mosque, in Sydney's south-west, after about 500 mostly Muslim men gathered, apparently after rumours of an imminent attack on the building.

Police were pelted with rocks as the crowd dispersed, police said, and although no one was injured, tensions last night remained high among Australians of Middle Eastern background, who were targeted in yesterday's race riot.

Earlier yesterday, cricket bats, rocks and steel rods were confiscated by police monitoring about 100 people who had gathered near Maroubra Beach, not far from where a rampaging mob smashed car windows on Sunday, also in apparent retaliation for the Cronulla riot.

The crowd at Maroubra had largely dispersed by nightfall, but Superintendent Phil Rogerson said police were also worried about violence flaring at Coogee and Bondi, in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

Police have formed a taskforce to try to prevent a repeat of Sunday's riot, condemned by NSW Premier Morris Iemma yesterday as the ugly face of racism in Australia.

Sixteen people were charged Sunday after a 5000-strong alcohol-fuelled mob, some waving flags and chanting racist slogans, chased and beat people of Middle Eastern appearance at Cronulla beach. Thirty-one people were injured.

The clashes were sparked by an attack on young Cronulla surf lifesavers the week before, and text messages calling for retaliation.

Within hours of the riot, reprisal attacks led to one man being stabbed at nearby Woolooware and more than 100 cars badly damaged in a rampage through Maroubra beach in the nearby eastern suburbs.

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