SYDNEY - Muslim and Christians will join today in a plea for racial peace at a church hall believed burned as part of the violence that has rocked Sydney for a week.
But as they gather among the ruins of the Uniting Church community centre in the southwestern suburb of Auburn, police will be preparing to use new powers handed to them yesterday in an emergency sitting of the New South Wales Parliament.
Tomorrow an extra 1000 police will be on duty to maintain calm, rising on Sunday to an additional 1500. Police will be able to shut down troublespots, sealing them off with roadblocks, to stop and search vehicles without due cause, and to confiscate cars and mobile phones they suspect are being used in violence, for up to seven days.
Inside the cordon - which can be maintained for 48 hours or longer, with Supreme Court approval - police can close pubs, clubs and bars, and declare alcohol-free zones.
The maximum penalty for rioting has been increased from 10 years to 15 years, and for affray from five years to 10 years, and new offences of assault during a public disorder could result in maximum sentences of seven years' jail for causing actual bodily harm, and five years for assault not causing bodily harm.
As fears of continued violence grate on a city facing several days of temperatures reaching into the 30s, ethnic and Arabic leaders have warned that a determined effort will be needed to stamp out "anti-Arab racism".
"If a single death is caused by the intensification of this violence we risk victimisation and further marginalisation of vulnerable groups," Voula Messimeri, chairwoman of the Federation of Ethic Communities Council of Australia, said. "With 25 per cent of people having been born overseas, we cannot allow this to happen."
Across Sydney's southwest, community organisations continued to meet in the hope of stemming further violence following the beating of Middle Eastern men at Cronulla Beach on Sunday, and retaliatory raids by carloads of Lebanese youths.
Following a peace pledge between the Maroubra Beach Bra Boys gang and the Commancheros bike gang - with its heavy Lebanese membership - Cronulla surfers have now moved to restore peace. Local boardriding club reps handed an apology to Lebanese youth leaders, who gave their own apologies with letters of remorse from key figures in Sunday's mob violence.
In the past three days, relative calm has been maintained by a massive police clampdown that has virtually sealed off the Sutherland Shire.