Masked thugs burn Aussie flag, attack onlookers in day of violent extremism

BILL Shorten has hit out at thugs who burned Australian flags during extremist rallies in Melbourne yesterday.
Protesters and police squared off in a string of ugly confrontations after two opposing rallies were staged at the same time.
Masked thugs used the chaos to burn the Australian flag and attack onlookers.
“I deplore burning the flag,” Mr Shorten said.
“Anyone who burns the flag is an idiot.
“I don’t think we need a law to ban burning the flag, frankly, I think everyone knows it is a stupid, idiotic thing to do and I think 99.999% of Australians think it is an idiot act.”
Mr Shorten’s comments come after a far-left protester defended the right to burn the flag following the day of violent extremism in Melbourne.
One of the protest organisers, Debbie Brennan of Radical Women, said she wasn’t aware who set the flags alight but defended their right to do so.
“I understand why people would burn the Australian flag,” she told 3AW.
Protesters attack a man who was filming them on his phone. Picture: Hamish Blair
Masked protesters burn the Aussie flag. Picture: Hamish Blair
“The Australian flag really is a symbol and celebration of invasion, of White Australia policy, of racism.”
Ms Brennan said anti-racism protesters covered their faces during the rally to avoid retribution from anti-immigration groups.
“People who wear masks and don’t want to be identified by them fear being stalked, possibly attacked. We are dealing with violent people,” she said.
Superintendent David Clayton said it wasn’t an offence to burn the flag, but said police were frustrated by protesters who hid their faces behind masks.
“It is an issue. The ability to identify individuals whose intent is on violence is troublesome,” he told 3AW.
Organisers used an anti-racism protest on the steps of Parliament in a defiant stand against a nearby counter rally, the Australian National Flag Solidarity Walk, led by the United Patriots Front.
But about 20 masked and hooded young men, who splintered off from the anti-racism group, have been blamed for inciting the violence that spiralled just after midday.
At least three onlookers were targeted in separate attacks by anti-fascist ringleaders.
One man filming on his smartphone was the first to be assaulted, punched and kicked to the ground by three men.
Two more photographers were caught in the melee that stunned onlookers at Carlton Gardens.
Supt Clayton said three protesters had been charged, two with assault and one with the criminal damage of a cameraman’s equipment.
He also said police were following up reports of an assault in Carlton Gardens.
Stuart McEvoy, a photographer for The Australian said it was a tense situation.
“(The protesters) were telling us not to take photos,’’ he said. “I told one to go away, then he came up to me and threw a punch.’’
The United Patriots Front and True Blue Crew march through the CBD. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Dressed in black with their faces covered, the Left-wing protesters then set the flags alight as police stood 10 deep around the anti-Islam group. which continued to chant “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’’ outside the Royal Exhibition Building.
Tensions rose as the same group, with Australian flags raised, was escorted to a bus.
Further violence erupted on the steps of Parliament station as police attempted to usher away remaining nationalists.
Only one anti-racism activist was seen trying to step in and stop the masked protesters. Leaders of the anti-racism group declared victory shortly after 1pm.
But Campaign Against Racism and Fascism spokeswoman Vashti Kenway would not be drawn on whether the splinter group of masked and hooded men were responsible for the violent clashes with police.
A protester is arrested. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Protesters burn Australian flags. Picture: Hamish Blair
“I’m not going to condemn anyone’s practical decisions made on the day,’’ Ms Kenway said. “I don’t know what happened. We don’t dictate the strategies.
“Our main message was that Melbourne is an anti-racist, multicultural town and we won’t stand for the ideas of the far Right, hostility to refugees and anti-Islamic sentiment.’’
She said the protests would continue and hoped more people would join the anti-racism movement.
“It’s not something we will solve in one day but hopefully our voice was heard today.’’
Police superintendent David Clayton said there were just three arrests.
“Two people were arrested for assaulting each other and one person was arrested for criminal damage,’’ Supt Clayton said. “In general police would regard that as a successful operation.
He said police deployed a number of specialist resources, with mounted officers, operational response units, public order response teams, dog units and highway patrol officers. One female police officer was injured after she fell on an uneven surface.
Police said they were happy they were able to keep the protesters apart. More than 300 searches found no weapons.
Police said the True Blue Crew rally attracted 120 people and the counter rally, 200.
Police said it is not illegal to set fire to an Australian flag.
Further investigations will be carried out, and CCTV footage reviewed, with police saying more arrests are possible.
Police arrest a protester. Picture: Jake Nowakowski


POLICE, the courts and the Andrews Government have been urged to take stronger action to stop violent thugs unleashing mayhem on Melbourne’s streets.
City blocks were rendered no-go zones and shops and cafes were forced to shut yesterday as 320 far-Left and Right activists fought with police, traded punches in alleyways, and attacked photographers.
At one stage about 20 anti-racist thugs peeled off down a side street to avoid police and hunt down rivals.
Heavily armoured riot police, mounted officers and canine units were part of a 500-strong force that turned out to combat the protesters, as the CBD became like a war zone.
Anti-racist protesters refused to condemn violent splinter groups. But city traders, the Police Association and the State Opposition called for tougher action to take back the CBD.
The Police Association’s Bruce McKenzie said: “Violent confrontations were once foreign to our city but it’s hugely disappointing that violence now seems to be the order of the day.”
Police tackled some rioters to the ground outside Carlton Gardens and wrestled another to earth on the steps at Parliament station.
Hundreds of officers locked down the parliamentary precinct. But one anti-racism mob broke off to look for trouble: faces covered, they ran along Bourke St and down Liverpool St as terrified families watched.
They eventually arrived at Carlton Gardens, where protesters from the True Blue Crew were gathering outside the Royal Exhibition Building.
Police escort protesters to the Melbourne Exhibition Building. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Police prepare for the rally. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
In other incidents, three photographers were attacked.
Around 200 anti-racist protesters were in the CBD, and 120 for the True Blue Crew.
Though anti-racism protesters burned Australian flags and threw rocks at police, only three arrests were made.
A woman, 25, from Reservoir and a man, 29, from Cranbourne were charged with assault, and a 24-year-old man of no fixed abode was charged with criminal damage.
Superintendent David Clayton said officers could not arrest people for burning flags.
“While it is not a very good look and might be viewed as un-Australian, it is not an offence to burn flags,” he said.
Shops and cafes near the protests shut to avoid trouble. Angry traders, who did not give names, demanded action.
“How can you call this the world’s most liveable city when it is taken over by thugs in masks and riot squads?’’ one said. “People are scared to come here. We are losing money and the city’s reputation must be suffering.
“These people have to be stopped.’’
Mr McKenzie, the police union assistant secretary, said: “We rely on courts to make sure additional penalties are imposed, otherwise these violent protests will continue and our members will continue to be in the firing line. But the actions of these offenders will largely go unpunished.”
Victoria Police pledged to look at protest footage.
Police Minister Lisa Neville vowed a crackdown: “There is no place for this sort of behaviour in Victoria. It’s clear that some of the protesters involved in rallies were only there to fight.”
But shadow attorney general John Pesutto said the mayhem showed Melbourne was a city in chaos. “Police no longer have the powers they need. Labor dramatically weakened the tough move-on laws of the Coalition, and what we have seen is the spate of violent protests,” he said.



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