Australians shocked as race riots erupt again in Sydney

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The Independent Online

Violence on the streets of Sydney spilled into a second night as scores of people drove through beachside suburbs smashing windows of shops, homes and flats.

Any hopes that Sunday's race riot was an isolated incident were shattered when car-loads of people rampaged through southeast Sydney, chased by police vehicles.

Paul Bugden, a spokesman for New South Wales Police, said yesterday's violence broke out in Cronulla, where Sunday's riots also started. "We have shops damaged at Caringbah, cars damaged at Cronulla. We have six arrests at this stage," he said.

One person was hit with a rock outside Cronulla police station, Mr Bugden said, adding that people riding in more than 20 cars were involved in the violence.Yesterday's rioting was clearly linked to Sunday's rampage, he said.

On Sunday, 5,000 white men, many of them drunk, attacked men they believed were of Middle Eastern descent in retaliation for the assault a week earlier of two lifeguards, allegedly by youths of Lebanese descent.

Police arrested 16 rioters and said 31 people were injured, including a man stabbed by an assailant who police officers said had an Arab appearance.

John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, called the violence "sickening" but said: "I do not accept there is underlying racism in this country."

Television images of Sunday's fighting and of people wrapped in Australia's flag as they hurled racial abuse shocked Australians who pride themselves on their tolerance and credit an influx of immigrants with helping to build up the country in the years after the Second World War.

Mr Howard 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 and in a way that has brought enormous credit to this country."

In the last census in 2001, nearly one-quarter of Australia's 20 million population said they were born overseas. But tensions between youths of Arabic and Middle Eastern descent and white Australians have risen, largely because of anti-Muslim sentiment fuelled by the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States and the bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, in October 2002. About 300,000 Muslims live in Australia, many in the lower-income suburbs of large cities.

Roland Jabbour, the chairman of the Australian Arabic Council, said: "Arab Australians have had to cope with vilification, racism, abuse and fear of a racial backlash for years, but these riots will take that fear to a new level."

Steven Dawson, who lives in the Sydney suburb of Brighton-le-Sands, said a bottle was thrown through his window yesterday, showering his five-month-old son with glass "That bottle could have killed him," he said.

Horst Dreizner, another resident, said a car was rammed through the front doors of his denture shop, causing thousands of dollars of damage. He feared the violence would escalate. "I think it is only the beginning," he said.

Yesterday's rampage will add to the shock expressed at Sunday's rioting, which police said was organised through text messages and fanned by neo-Nazi groups.

Stepan Kerkyasharian, the chairman of the New South Wales Community Relations Commission, told Sky News: "What we have seen is something I thought I would never see in Australia and perhaps we have not seen in Australia in any of our lifetimes - a mass call to violence based on race."

Christian leaders also expressed their outrage. "There is no place in our free, democratic and civil society for racist and mob violence," Sydney's Anglican Archbishop, Dr Peter Jensen, said.

"We must look to the root causes of this social disharmony, seek authentic information about them, and then deal with those matters."

Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, said: "All people of goodwill should reject the extremists in both camps and work together so this is the end of major disturbances, not the beginning of something worse." AP