Howard calls for tolerance after Australian beach riotDecember 12, 2005, NY Times, AP
December 12, 2005, NY Times, AP
SYDNEY — Prime MinisterJohn Howardcalled for ethnic and religious tolerance on Monday after racial violence, spurred on by white supremacists, according to the police, erupted in parts of Sydney over the weekend. Howard condemned a day and night of race riots in the beachside suburbs of Sydney but said he did not believe Australian society had an undercurrent of racism. He also denied that government warnings of home-grown Islamic militants had fueled the riots, which targeted Middle Easterners. Howard spoke as the police formed a strike force to track down the instigators of the running battles, which involved drunken mobs of white men yelling racial slurs, young men of Arab descent and hundreds of police officers. Young men of Arab descent retaliated in several Sydney suburbs, fighting with officers and smashing 40 cars with sticks and bats, the police said. The fighting left 31 people wounded, including police officers and paramedics. One white manwas hospitalized after being stabbed in the back, allegedly by an Arab man who was being sought.There were 16 arrests. Racial tension sparked violence on Cronulla Beach on Sunday when about 5,000 people attacked youths of Mideast background, saying they were defending their beach after lifeguards were attacked there last week. Violence then spread to a second beach, Maroubra. Some of those involved were draped in Australian flags; others shouted, "No more Lebs," referring to Lebanese, among other slogans. "Attacking people on the basis of race and ethnicity," Howard told a news conference on Monday, "is totally unacceptable and should be repudiated by all Australians, irrespective of background and politics." The New South Wales police said that a group of neo-Nazis and white supremacists had stirred up a drunken crowd at Cronulla Beach. "There appears to be an element of white supremacists," Police Minister Carl Scully told reporters, "and they really have no place in mainstream Australian society. Those sort of characters are best placed in Berlin 1930s, not in Cronulla 2005." Arabic and Muslim leaders said violence was expected since Muslims had been subjected to racist taunts, especially since the Iraq war and bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali, where many Australians were among the dead. "Arab Australians have had to cope with vilification, racism, abuse and fear of a racial backlash for a number of years, but these riots will take that fear to a new level," said Roland Jabbour, chairman of the Australian Arabic Council. Muslim leaders also accused politicians and media commentators of heightening racial tensions here. "Fear and scare-mongering have long been targeted toward the Arab and Muslim communities, as politicians, fueled by media sensationalism, justify support for draconian agendas and simplistic policies," Jabbour said. About 300,000 Muslims live in Australia, the majority in large cities. The state premier in New South Wales, Morris Iemma, said community leaders would convene this week to discuss ways to prevent further violence.