Five people have been arrested over sporadic violence in Sydney, where right-wing activists from the ‘Reclaim Australia’ movement held a protest with police trying to keep them separated from a counter-rally by pro-tolerance protesters.
Some 150 Reclaim Australia activists gathered in Sydney’s Martin Place to protest against what they called the Islamization of the country, some of them wearing Spartan outfits and carrying Eureka flags, controversial symbols of rebellion in Australia.
Separated by a police-enforced buffer zone, a counter-protest standing for multiculturalism and against Islamophobia gathered.
The five were arrested over violent clashes between the two rallies, AAP reported. Police said at least two of the arrests may lead to charges.
“We respect your right to protest and police will facilitate that and work to support peaceful demonstration on every occasion. But those who wish to come and commit offences, intimidate or be offensive will be arrested,” NSW Assistant Commissioner Alan Clarke told SBS News.
Similar pro and counter-rallies were held in other Australian cities on Sunday, including Brisbane, Perth, Hobart and Canberra, with no major incidents reported. In Mackay, Federal Coalition MP George Christensen addressed a Reclaim Australia rally, calling for action to defend the nation’s values.
“Our voice says we will not surrender, we will not sit idly by and watch the Australian culture and the Australian lifestyle that we love, and that is envied around the world … we are not going to see that surrendered and handed over to those who hate us for who we are and what we stand for,” he said.
Police said the Sunday rallies demonstrated a “good level of compliance” by the protesters, an improvement compared to the altercations of Saturday’s rally in Melbourne, when police had to use pepper spray to maintain order.
Reclaim Australia says it stands for maintaining Australia’s national identity and is against the spread of Islam in the country. Their critics consider them racist and accuse of neo-Nazi leanings.
“Claiming to be a patriot is one thing and being too patriot[ic] is another. We [Muslims] are a 2 percent minority here, so to say that radical Islam is taking over Australia is completely false, there’s no reality to it,” Waseem Razvi, president of Australia’s Islamic Research and Education Academy, told RT.
“A real patriot would not stand against minorities, but stand alongside the minorities, respecting the constitution and respecting the multicultural spirit of Australia,” he said.
The weekend protests come during this year’s Eid al-fitr festivities, when Muslims celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan.