Police arrest 12 amid racially fueled mob violence at Sydney beach

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The Independent Online

Racial violence erupted in Sydney beachside suburbs yesterday after thousands of white youths, many chanting racial slurs, clashed with police and attacked people of Middle Eastern origin.

At least 12 people were arrested for assault and other offenses and several were injured in the alcohol-fueled fights at Cronulla beach.

Later that evening, after an uneasy peace had returned to Cronulla, the violence spread.

Police said youths damaged cars in at least one nearby suburb and a man was stabbed after what a police spokesman described as a short conversation with a "group of males of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern appearance." The victim was hospitalized in serious condition.

Dozens of police in riot gear also were involved in a confrontation with youths in the Brighton-le-Sands neighborhood close to Sydney's Botany Bay, Sky News reported.

Earlier Sunday, crowds approached people of Middle Eastern background at Cronulla beach "with vile abuse," police Assistant Commissioner Mark Goodwin said.

In TV broadcasts, the rioters overwhelmingly were young white men. Many carried beer bottles, waved Australian flags and chanted anti-Middle Eastern slogans in response to reports that youths of Lebanese ancestry were responsible for an attack last weekend on two of the beach's life guards.

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

Two paramedics in an ambulance were injured as they tried to get youths of Middle Eastern appearance out of the Cronulla Surf Lifesaving Club, where they had fled to escape one mob.

The mob broke the vehicle's windows and kicked its doors as the paramedics tried to get the group out.

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

Some rioters stomped on police vehicles and other cars. Officers fought back with batons and pepper spray.

Sydney has many beaches, but Cronulla is one of few that are easily accessible by train and often is visited by youngsters - many of Middle Eastern ethnicity - from the poorer suburbs of western and southern Sydney.

Area residents accuse the visitors of being disrespectful and sometimes intimidating other beachgoers.

Days ago, police increased the number of officers patrolling the beach after mobile phone text messages began circulating calling for retaliation for the attack on the lifeguards.

But authorities seemed surprised by the number of people who showed up Sunday.

Area Mayor Kevin Schreiber accused the mob of flocking to the beach looking for a fight.

"As mayor and as a resident of Cronulla, I'm devastated by what has occurred on our beachfront," he said. "It is the actions of a few, but let's not kid ourselves that people didn't come from far and wide to participate."

The violence "is nothing short of disgusting and disgraceful," said Police Assistant Commissioner Goodwin. "It's certainly not the Australian way."

New South Wales state's political leader, Premier Morris Iemma, slammed the rioters.

"I condemn in the strongest possible terms the attack on an ambulance at North Cronulla today," Iemma said. "There is never any excuse to attack any emergency vehicle."

The president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, Keysar Trad, said the violence was "bound to happen" after callers to some radio talk shows whipped up ethnic tensions following the attack last weekend.

"Sections of the media took this issue far too far, and one can only surmise that the way (these) issues was dealt with on talk-back radio amounts to incitement," Trad said.

State police chief Commissioner Ken Moroney promised to target people who fueled the ethnic tensions.

"Clearly there has been a level of racial vilification ... and those who are found to behave this way will be prosecuted," he said, without elaborating.

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