Police out in force to stop weekend riots

By Greg Ansley

SYDNEY - The city's southern beaches have been virtually shut down as authorities try to douse simmering racial tensions amid fears they could re-ignite at the weekend.

With a heavy police presence on the streets, the NSW Government prepared to pass tough riot laws today.

Police put an extra 450 officers on the streets, and will pull in even more from other parts of the state for a weekend that Police Minister Carl Scully feared would bring more violence.

The moves came as racist violence spread to South Australia and Western Australia, electronic hate mail began stirring bigots in Victoria and Queensland, and text-messages recruited thugs from Melbourne and Canberra for more trouble at the weekend.

Two white Australian men were bashed by carloads of Middle Eastern youths in the affluent western Sydney suburbs of Castle Hill and Ryde on Tuesday night, while whites attacked the home of a Middle Eastern family in Perth and assaulted a Lebanese taxi-driver in Adelaide.

Police are also investigating the suspicious burning of a Uniting Church hall in the Sydney suburb of Auburn, and the stoning of windows at a nearby Anglican church, both of which are close to an Islamic centre.

Although NSW Premier Morris Iemma said the church damage could be related to the violence between white and Lebanese-Australian youths at Cronulla on Sunday and Monday, Uniting Church minister Glenys Biddle denied the connection.

"Our relationship with the community is good and peaceful," she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Cronulla remained calm but apprehensive yesterday, protected by hundreds of police in cars, on foot and on horseback.

Maroubra, the beach further north that was also attacked in retaliatory raids by Lebanese men on Monday night, was quiet yesterday and had fewer police on patrol, with attention focused mainly on Cronulla.

The local gang of surfer toughs known as the "Bra Boys" also held a press conference late on Tuesday with the Comancheros bike gang, whose membership includes a large proportion of Lebanese, to promise peace.

"We're doing all we can to go out there and speak with the Lebanese community and ease tensions," Bra Boy leader Jai Abberton said.

But text and email messaging continues to stir hatred. The New Zealand Herald has learned of text message calls to action being sent to secondary schoolboys even in the affluent northwestern suburbs, and of emails and phone calls arranging carloads of Middle Eastern youths from Melbourne and Canberra to travel for further confrontations this weekend.

Cronulla locals have promised to fight back, with one telling the Herald: "F**k the wogs."

ABC radio has also reported that text-messages promoting race hatred have been encouraging trouble at Newcastle, north of Sydney, this weekend, and others have been circulating in Melbourne and Queensland. Police are tracking the authors.

"I believe we are a multicultural state. I do not believe that there will be any support for any activity," said Queensland Premier Peter Beattie. "I would urge people to be calm."

The Sydney Morning Herald said leaders from dozens of Lebanese groups in the city would send volunteers to reason with their young men, and Lebanese mothers would be asked to "lovingly" lock up their sons to avoid more trouble at the weekend.

But the State Government is taking no chances, and is expected to pass laws today to enable police to isolate and shut down potential troublespots, and remove the presumption of bail that allowed arrested rioters to go back on the streets.

 

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