Sydney (dpa) – Around 150 members of an anti-Muslim group clashed with several hundred anti-racists at a rally in Australia’s second-largest city Sunday, local media reported.
Around 200 police in riot gear used pepper spray to keep the groups apart. Scuffles broke out as the chanting groups tried to confront each other in a Melbourne park near where a new mosque is planned to be built, the Herald-Sun newspaper reported.
Four men were arrested at the opposing rallies Sunday afternoon, including one for possessing a weapon and one who allegedly attacked a police horse.
Both sides waved Australian flags, but many members of the anti-Islam Reclaim Australia and United Patriots Front covered their faces in skull masks as they called for Muslims to be expelled from Australia.
“Let us defend our culture and not allow Islamic beliefs into our land. I say no to any more Islamic immigration,” John Bolton from Reclaim Australia said.
Counter protests shouted “Nazi scum off our streets” and ‘No racism, no war,” The Age newspaper reported.
Anti-Muslim leader Phillip Galea, 31, was charged with possessing 12 tasers and bomb-making materials earlier in the week. When the magistrate refused bail, Galea asked to be kept away from Muslims in jail as he feared for his safety.
Several new right-wing political parties have been formed in recent months including Australia Love it or Leave and the Australian Liberty Alliance that was launched by Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders.
Plans for an Australian Muslim Party were announced by Islamic activists last week, indicating the tensions will be an election issue in 10 months time.