Covid 19 Australia: Anti-lockdown protests in Sydney, Melbourne result in hundreds of arrests
Six police officers were taken to hospital with serious injuries, including broken bones, after they violently clashed with hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters in Melbourne.
Commander Mark Galliott said police were confronted by “angry and aggressive young males”, with many throwing bottles, stones and other objects at officers.
“What we saw today was a group of protesters that came together not to protest freedoms, but simply to take on and have a fight with the police,” he told reporters on Saturday.
The violence resulted in 235 people being arrested, with 193 of them linked to breaching the chief health officer’s directions.
Other alleged offences included assaulting police and riotous behaviour, as well as weapons and drug charges.
In total, 10 police officers were injured, with six taken to hospital and three of them still being treated.
Their injuries included torn muscles, a broken elbow, a broken nose and a broken finger.
Commander Galliott said it saddened him to see people behaving that way towards police.
More than 2000 officers were involved in the overall operation, which Commander Galliott still considered a success in keeping people out of the CBD despite the violence in Richmond.
It came after police flanked protesters in Burnley St, Richmond about 12.30pm when a crowd gathered outside the town hall on Bridge Rd.
The group sat down on the road after being surrounded by officers with batons and pepper spray drawn.
A video posted to Twitter showed an officer hit in the face with a bottle after he sprayed towards a crowd member who held an umbrella.
Demonstrators moved back towards Bridge Rd through side streets where some were arrested.
In a live video streamed on Facebook, police could be seen pinning a handful of protesters to the ground.
Earlier on Burnley St some protesters pleaded with police to let them through while others could be heard yelling, “no one has died from Covid”.
Another said “take off your badge and stand with us”.
One woman said she was there to support children as she was worried about youth suicides.
The crowd marched through the streets attempting to evade officers but were cut off at on a highway.
There, police deployed pepper spray towards the crowd, with members responding by throwing projectiles.
Police could also be seen pushing people back who were fleeing from them.
The protesters then broke through a line of police by charging straight at them.
One officer appeared to be trampled and another was flung to the ground.
The closure of main roads and suspension of public transport into the CBD forced protesters to change the location of the rally, which was slammed by Premier Daniel Andrews as selfish.
Protesters spent the morning encouraging each other to follow through with the 12pm action, even with the promise of heavy police attention, in a message thread on encrypted app Telegram.
As police fortified the city, group organisers announced midmorning the location would be changed from the CBD to the corner of Bridge Rd and Church St in Richmond, on the edge of the city.
About 12pm hundreds of people started to gather outside the Richmond town hall, located a stone’s throw from the local police station.
They began chanting “no more lockdown”, “sack Dan Andrews” and “we will not comply” as a police line was formed at the intersection of Church St and Bridge Rd.
Some earlier said the planned site had to be changed to give police the slip, while others argued they needed to “stand up” to authorities.
The rally coincides with the relaxation of some measures across metropolitan Melbourne, including five fully vaccinated people being able to meet outdoors from two separate households, and the doubling of outdoor exercise times and travel limits.
Roadblocks and hard barricades were put in place early on Saturday morning as trains and trams began to terminate well before reaching the city.
Thousands of protesters also gathered elsewhere around Australia, including in Brisbane where a fight appeared to break out as police arrested a man.
Queensland police are yet to confirm details of the incident or overall arrests stemming from the protest.
The crowd included mothers with prams, elderly people and many holding signs.
“They say wear a mask, we say no!” the marchers yelled.
It comes despite Queensland not being in lockdown and not having many restrictions overall either.
In Adelaide, hundreds of people gathered, including one person holding a sign that read: “1984 was not an instruction manual.”
Another held a sign that read: “Make Orwell fiction again.”
A young girl even held a sign that read: “I am not your test subject.”
But it appeared to be a much more peaceful protest and police have not reported any arrests.
There was also a heavy police presence in Sydney but that protest seemingly fizzled out quickly.
Police arrested 32 people and issued 265 penalty infringement notices.
More than 1700 police were involved in the operation across the state, including specialist police from the public order and riot squad, PolAir, and the dog and mounted unit.
About 1500 officers were deployed across the Sydney area, while 200 were in regional locations including Tweed Heads, Byron Bay, Central Coast, Wollongong and the South Coast.
Movement of potential protesters was restricted following a prohibition notice to taxi, rideshare and passenger services from taking passengers to the CBD, police said.
More than 60,000 vehicles were also checked at 19 traffic points on major roads and mobile units were also deployed.
“Most importantly, I want to thank the community who did the right thing and stayed home today,” Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell said.
Protesters changed their meeting point to Richmond, 20 minutes out of the CBD, after police set up a ring of steel around the centre of Melbourne.
NSW Police earlier said it would be out in force today in response to planned unauthorised anti-lockdown protest activity in the Sydney CBD.
NSW Police and Emergency Services Minister David Elliott warned anyone thinking of protesting this weekend to stay at home, and not come into the city.
“There is no doubt that these protests are a risk to public health – for the community, for police as well as for the individual health of the protesters themselves,” Elliott said.
“We’ve seen past protesters end up contracting Covid-19, so anyone who is still considering protesting needs take a good hard look at themselves.”
In Victoria, Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said earlier this week that police were taking no chances after the violent protests in August.
“Anyone who’s planning to come in, it is an illegal gathering and we’ll be doing everything we can to prevent that gathering,” he said. “We’ll be doing everything we can to prevent access to the city.”
A similar protest last month drew more than 4000 people in the Melbourne CBDand was marred with violence as police and demonstrators clashed.
Nine police officers were hospitalised due to injuries, with the force’s top brass branding it one of the most violent demonstrations in 20 years.
Specialist police donned in full riot gear and holding ballistic shields were forced to fire pepper ball rounds on demonstrators as they charged officers and breached the police line.
“We saw a convergence of people who were placing others at risk of potentially contracting the coronavirus,” Patton said. “With the new Delta strain, the risk is exacerbated significantly. We can’t allow that to occur again.”
Today’s protests come as Covid-19 outbreaks continue to worsen in NSW and Victoria.
In NSW, 1331 new local cases and six deaths were recorded today. In Victoria, 535 new local cases and one death were recorded.
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