Tensions between young white gangs and youths of mainly Middle Eastern origin erupted on one of Australia’s most popular beaches yesterday in what police condemned as a racially motivated rally driven by a mob mentality.
Thousands of people, many chanting racial slurs, were engaged in running battles on Cronulla Beach in Sydney’s southern suburbs.
At least 13 people were hurt, including five police, and 12 were arrested during the clashes, which followed a week of mounting anger over an attack on two lifeguards who were beaten up by a gang of Lebanese youths.
Furious locals, many wielding empty beer bottles and waving Australian flags, shouted anti-Middle Eastern slogans as they marched across the sand, on which was written “100 per cent Aussie pride”.
One white teenager had the words “We grew up here, you flew here” painted across his back. 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.
Up to 150 police officers were drafted in to cope with the 5,000-strong crowd, many of whom roamed the beach and side streets in vigilante fashion.
Two girls of Middle Eastern appearance were pushed to the ground and pelted with bottles as police tried to rescue them.
By mid-afternoon word spread that a Lebanese gang was arriving at the nearby railway station. Some members of the mob jumped on a train where they looked for anybody of vaguely Middle Eastern appearance. They found two men whom they began to beat before police intervened with batons and formed a human chain around the station.
In a separate incident, two paramedics were injured as they tried to rescue a group of Lebanese youths who had sought sanctuary in the Cronulla Surf Lifesaving club.
The mob smashed windows and kicked at doors, while others stomped on police vehicles and parked cars. Officers fought back with pepper spray and batons, bringing a semblance of calm to the area by late afternoon.
Last night, violence flared in at least six Sydney suburbs in retaliation for the Cronulla clashes. In nearby Brighton-le-Sands, an Australian flag was reported to have been taken off a building and burnt.
The violent clashes followed weeks of rising racial tension in the beachside suburb, which is popular with thousands of Middle Eastern families from Sydney’s mainly ethnic outer areas at the weekend. Locals have accused some of them, particularly visiting Lebanese youths, of being disrespectful to white women and other beachgoers.
Following the attacks on the volunteer lifeguards, a mobile telephone text campaign started, backed up by frenzied discussions on weblogs, calling on Cronulla locals to rally to protect their beach.
In response, a text campaign urged youths from western Sydney to be at Cronulla on Sunday to protect their friends. All week police and politicians had been calling for calm.
Yesterday, Islamic leaders blamed the trouble on influential talk radio hosts who had whipped up racial tensions in the wake of last weekend’s attack on the lifesavers, who epitomise Australia’s white traditions and Anglo-Saxon roots.
Keysar Trad, president of the Islamic Friendship Association, accused the media of incitement.
Ken Moroney, the New South Wales police commissioner, pledged to target people who raised the ethnic tensions that ignited the violence.
Mark Goodwin, the assistant police commissioner, branded the riots as “disgusting and disgraceful”. “It’s certainly not the Australian way,” he said.
Kevin Schreiber, the Cronulla Mayor, said many who flocked to the beach were looking for a fight. “I’m devastated by what has happened on our beachfront. It is the actions of a few, but let’s not kid ourselves that people didn’t come from far and wide to participate.”
Sydney erupted in a second night of racial violence last night as Middle Eastern mobs fired shots into the air, attacked women and smashed shops around Cronulla, while up to 600 young men—armed with guns and crowbars—prepared for a battle.
In a terrifying escalation of the conflict, up to 70 cars from Hurstville and possibly Lakemba invaded Cronulla and Brighton-le-Sands to launch revenge attacks, following the vicious attacks by Cronulla locals on people of Middle Eastern appearance on Sunday.
Twenty carloads of men arrived at Cronulla by about 10.30pm, smashing shops, and cars in Elouera Road, and threatening people who got in their way. They reportedly stabbed a woman at Carringbah, but her condition was unknown.
Gunshots were heard near Northies Hotel at Cronulla and there was an unconfirmed report of a man being shot.
About 11.30pm a group of about 100 Cronulla locals surrounded a car carrying men of Middle Eastern appearance, but police cleared the crowd and let the car escape.
Hours earlier, about 200 men had assembled outside Lakemba Mosque—some armed with Glock pistols—and dozens more gathered at Campsie. They were preparing to travel to Maroubra Beach, where up to 300 locals, many armed with crowbars, waited for an arranged fight, according to “Bra Boys” at the beach.
But some young Muslims said they had gathered to protect the mosque because of a threatened attack on it by a gang from the southern beaches.
Following Sunday’s riot at Cronulla beach—when local mobs had bashed people of Middle Eastern appearance—police confiscated iron bars and other weapons at Maroubra last night and blocked roads around the mosque. About 20 police cars surrounded the mosque, where four men showed their pistols and ammunition to a news crew, and boasted that others were carrying arms.
At 10.45pm, on the Kingsway at Caringbah, about 12 cars sped by, followed by another vehicle that stopped. Four men got out and began attacking patrons of Antonio’s Pizzeria. They knocked a woman unconscious on the footpath and smashed the window of a denture clinic.
Thai-born Suchada Goodier, 44, owner of a Thai restaurant on the Kingsway, said she was walking on the street when she was attacked. The group then started bashing her car. “What have I done?” she said. “I have done nothing.”
In Bay Street, Brighton-le-Sands, a young woman was sitting in a car when men approached and opened the door to her vehicle and put a hand up her dress, saying: “We are going to rape you, you Aussie sluts.” A witness, Linda El-Hassan, 19, said a shot was fired at the woman’s car but she was unhurt. Miss El-Hassan said she was Lebanese and opposed the violence. “We all came to this country and we are all one in this country.”
The mobs vandalised cars and Bay Street was strewn with rubbish and a government bus was attacked and its back window smashed. Many police gathered in Bay Street, where a senior officer was heard to say: “Let’s get our [riot] gear on and smash ‘em.”
At Lakemba Mosque earlier, a media crew had been involved in an altercation with some in the crowd about 7pm. A man is believed to have suffered a broken leg during a scuffle.
Islamic leaders tried to calm the crowd, imploring the men over a loudspeaker to go inside and pray. Outside the Maroubra Bay Hotel, police dressed in riot gear prepared for violence.
A Channel Seven reporter, Robert Ovadia, was surrounded by a group who menaced him, spat in his face, threatened to head-butt him and told him that the media had stirred up all the trouble. Ovadia called police, who sent a patrol car. The Herald’s reporter at Maroubra retreated under a hail of water bombs.
The Bra Boys had told the media they were not welcome.
Police said there was evidence of text and email messages promoting another confrontation at Cronulla next Sunday. One email congratulates those involved in Sunday’s riots but warns of armed retaliation. “This is only the beginning, this is a start of the war! Leb’s n wog’s won’t stand for this and will start singling out the aussies and gang bashing them with drawn weapons. We must continue to come together to help the innocent and family’s so everyone can enjoy our beach’s!”
The Premier, Morris Iemma, said Sunday had exposed the “ugly face of racism in Australia”. But John Howard said: “I believe yesterday’s behaviour was completely unacceptable but I’m not going to put a general tag [of] racism on the Australian community . . . I think it’s a term that is flung around sometimes carelessly and I’m simply not going to do so. I do not accept there is underlying racism in this country. I have always taken a more optimistic view of the character of the Australian people.”