Mobs riot again as Sydney race tensions explode
By Nick Squires in Darwin
Racial violence flared in Sydney yesterday in apparent retaliation for earlier clashes in which a mob of 5,000 white youths chanted abuse and attacked people of Middle Eastern origin.
The second night of violence brought terror to one of the city's best known beaches. It flared when young men of mostly Lebanese background clashed with police, throwing stones and other missiles.
|Police question men they suspect of being involved with the violence|
Witnesses reported several gun shots and one woman was said to have been stabbed.
Police reinforcements were drafted in as thugs attacked cars and shops with baseball bats and threatened to do battle with rival white gangs with guns and crowbars.
About 200 young Muslim men gathered outside one of the city's largest mosques, some armed with pistols.
A white woman in a car was said to have been approached by some men and told: "We are going to rape you, you Aussie slut." It was claimed that a shot was fired at the vehicle.
|Violence flared in Cronulla after an attack on two beach lifeguards|
The cycle of violence tarnished Australia's reputation - often promoted by the government - as a bastion of tolerance and racial integration.
Anti-Muslim feeling has been exacerbated by the Bali bombings, a series of gang rapes of white women by men of Pakistani and Lebanese background and last month's counter-terrorism raids on alleged Islamic militants in Melbourne and Sydney. White youths also accuse Lebanese-Australian men of looking for trouble in beach areas, intimidating women in bikinis and picking fights.
The violence was concentrated on Cronulla, a southern suburb where rioting on Sunday led to more than 30 injuries and 16 arrests.
Cronulla, a staunchly Anglo-Celtic area, attracts thousands of trippers from the less salubrious western suburbs, a stronghold of the Middle Eastern and Muslim communities, which number 300,000 out of the national population of 20 million.
It has a reputation for resenting non-Anglo visitors. On Sunday thousands of white youths congregated on the beach front to protest against an incident last week in which two lifeguards - the epitome of white Australian culture - were beaten up by men of Lebanese origin. The lifeguards were attacked after asking a group to stop playing football because it was disturbing others.
Although peaceful at first, the demonstration was tinged with racism from the start - one man set up a barbecue offering "Free snags [sausages], no tabouli". Another had scrawled on his chest "Mohammed was a camel-raping faggot".
The crowd chanted "No more Lebs [Lebanese]" and sang Waltzing Matilda.
The atmosphere soon turned ugly, with police using pepper spray and batons to subdue rioters who pelted officers with bottles and smashed up patrol cars.
A Muslim woman had her head scarf torn off in what police described as a "cowardly" and "un-Australian" act.
White supremacist and neo-Nazi groups were among the crowd. "They have no place in mainstream Australian society," the New South Wales police minister, Carl Scully, said. "Those characters are best placed in 1930s Berlin, not in Cronulla in 2005."
John Howard, the prime minister, said: "Attacking people because of their race, their appearance, their ethnicity is totally unacceptable." He added that he did "not accept that there is underlying racism in this country".
Kuranda Seyit, of the Forum on Australian-Islamic Relations, disagreed. "There is racism running deeply in the Australian psyche. It's been simmering for years."