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Sunday, December 11, 2005

"Racial unrest as thousands riot at Australian beach"

Breaking news as reported by the USA Today:

SYDNEY (AP) — Thousands of drunken white youths attacked police and people they believed were Arab immigrants at a Sydney beach on Sunday, angered by reports that youths of Lebanese descent had assaulted two lifeguards.

Young men of Arab descent retaliated in several Sydney suburbs, fighting with police and smashing 40 cars with sticks and bats, police said.

Thirty-one people were injured and 28 were arrested in hours of violence. Police said they were seeking an Arab man who allegedly stabbed a white man in the back.

The city was calm Monday, and police formed a strike force to track down the instigators.

Some 5,000 white youths, wrapped in Australian flags and chanting racist slurs, fought with police, attacked people of Arab appearance and assaulted a pair of paramedics at Cronulla beach in southern Sydney, police said. Police fought back with batons and pepper spray.

Prime Minister John Howard condemned the violence, but said he did not believe racism was widespread in Australia.

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

He added, "I'm not going to put a general tag (of) racism on the Australian community."

The rioters were reacting to reports that youths of Lebanese descent were responsible for an attack last weekend on two of the beach's lifeguards.

Police had increased the number of officers patrolling the beach after mobile phone text messages circulated calling for retaliation for the attack on the guards.

One white teenager among the rioters had the words "We grew here, you flew here" painted on his back. On the sand, someone had written "100 percent Aussie pride."

Two paramedics in an ambulance were injured as they tried to help youths trying to escape rioters, when members of the mob smashed the vehicle's windows and kicked its doors.

TV broadcasts showed a group of young women attacking another woman, whose ethnicity was not immediately clear.

The violence shocked this city of 4 million which prides itself on being a cultural melting pot.

"Our disgrace," said a front page headline in Sydney's Daily Telegraph. Below was a picture of white youths attacking a man of Arab appearance on a train.

"Let's be very clear, the police will be unrelenting in their fight against these thugs and hooligans," said Morris Iemma, the leader of New South Wales state. He said the riots "showed the ugly side of racism in this country."

Kevin Schreiber, the mayor of the district where Cronulla is located, said he was devastated by the rampage, but that he believed the rioters came "from far and wide to participate."

Cronulla, one of the few beaches in Sydney that is easily accessible by train, is often visited by youngsters from poorer suburbs, many of them of Arab descent. Residents accuse the youths of traveling in gangs and sometimes intimidating other beachgoers.

Bruce Baird, a government lawmaker, said anti-Muslim sentiment has risen in Australia since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the 2002 bombings in Bali, Indonesia, that killed 88 Australians. He noted that six women from Cronulla were killed in the Bali bombings.

"Where this riot took place is actually the site of where we've got the Bali memorial for these women," Baird told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Kuranda Seyit, director of the Forum of Australia's Islamic Relations, described Australia as a "pluralist society, with many faiths and traditions all raveled into one."

He added: "This is the unique success of this nation, and we cannot let it fall into chaos and lawlessness."

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