Monday, December 12, 2005

Report #50 on the Era of Peace

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Australia PM urges tolerance after race violence
Sun 11 Dec 2005 10:01 PM ET
By Michael Perry

SYDNEY, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard called for ethnic and religious tolerance on Monday after racial violence, spurred on police say by white supremacists, erupted in parts of Sydney.

Racial tension sparked violence on Cronulla Beach on Sunday when around 5,000 people, some yelling racist chants, attacked youths of Middle Eastern background, saying they were defending their beach after lifesavers were attacked there last week.

Violence then spread to a second beach, Maroubra, where scores of men armed with baseball bats smashed about 100 cars.

At Botany Bay, riot police confronted hundreds of youths and police said a man was stabbed in the back in a southern Sydney suburb in what media reports said appeared to be racial violence.

"Mob violence is always sickening and always to be unconditionally condemned," Howard told a news conference on Monday, by when violence had subsided.

"Attacking people on the basis of race and ethnicity is totally unacceptable and should be repudiated by all Australians, irrespective of background and politics," he said.

New South Wales (NSW) police said a group of Neo-Nazis and white supremacists stirred on the drunken crowd at Cronulla.

"There appears to be an element of white supremacists and they really have no place in mainstream Australian society. Those sort of characters are best placed in Berlin 1930s, not in Cronulla 2005," NSW Police Minister Carl Scully told reporters.

As the crowd moved along the beach and foreshore on Sunday, 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.

Drunken youths chased and attacked Australians of Middle East appearance, sending some cowering into shops and hotels for safety, as riot police and dog squads tried to stop the violence.

Police arrested 16 people in Cronulla.

NSW state premier Morris Iemma said the violence reflected the "ugly face of racism in Australia". But Howard stressed the Cronulla violence was a law and order problem and did not reflect a deeper problem with Australia's multi-cultural society.

"I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country," he said.

"This nation of ours has been able to absorb millions of people from different parts of the world over a period of some 40 years and we have done so with remarkable success," he said.

"It is important that we reaffirm our respect for freedom of religion in this country, but it is also important that we place greater emphasis on integration of people into the broader community and the avoidance of tribalism."

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.

Australia's small Muslim community has expressed feelings of alienation since the Iraq war, reporting racist verbal abuse and occasional assaults. Australia is a staunch U.S. ally and was one of the first nations to commit troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Local Muslims have also expressed concern about recent new anti-terror laws, which they fear could target them, and warnings of home-grown terrorism by intelligence authorities.

The Howard government has used security as a major issue in its last two election victories, but the prime minister dismissed any suggestion his government's warnings about home-grown terrorists had fuelled the rampage.

"It is impossible to know how individuals react but everything this government's said about home-grown terrorism has been totally justified," said Howard.

"It is a potential threat. To suggest that one should remain a complete failure of leadership."

© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.


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