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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 April 2019

Australia PM slams 'ugly racial protests' in Melbourne

Far-right demonstrators gave Nazi salutes at anti-immigration rally

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to journalists after the 2018 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. EPA
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to journalists after the 2018 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. EPA

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday slammed "ugly racial protests" in Australia's second-largest city, after some far-right demonstrators gave Nazi salutes.

An anti-immigration rally at St Kilda Beach in Melbourne drew hundreds of demonstrators and counter-protesters on Saturday, but a large Victoria Police presence was broadly successful in keeping the two groups apart.

"I thank Vic police for their efforts dealing with the ugly racial protests we saw in St Kilda yesterday. Intolerance does not make Australia stronger," Mr Morrison tweeted.

"Australia is the most successful migrant country in the world ... Let's keep it that way, it makes Australia stronger."

But he was denounced on social media by critics who said that he had appeared to condemn the rally and those protesting against it, as well as failing to confront the march and those taking part.

Kevin Rudd, the former Labor Prime Minister, tweeted: "Is it so hard for Morrison just to name it for what it is. Not just ugly. But a fascist, racist rally. 1,000,000 Australians enlisted in the last war to defeat fascism. 30,000 died. 75 years later our policy should be zero tolerance.That demands leadership."

Australia's former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane wrote that "going soft on neo-Nazis and white supremacists does not make Australia stronger" as a nation.

"Name the hatred," he tweeted. "Don't encourage false equivalence between neo-Nazis and anti-racists."

Victoria Police Superintendent Tony Silva said on Saturday that there was three arrests but no officers or member of the public were known to have been hurt.

Immigration remains a hot-button issue in Australia amid concern about jobs and overcrowding in major cities.

Nearly half of Australia's 25-million population was either born overseas or has at least one parent born abroad.

The rally was organised by founders of the United Patriots Front, which conducts anti-immigration demonstrations in Melbourne.

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They said Saturday's protest was against alleged African gang violence and youth crime in the city.

The location of their protest, the inner city suburb of St Kilda, and nearby Caulfield, have sizeable Jewish populations.

Far-right independent senator Fraser Anning – who demanded "a final solution" to immigration in his maiden speech to the Senate last year – attended the St Kilda rally and said it was the "start of something bigger".

Mr Morrison, whose conservative Liberal-National coalition is struggling to hang on to power in a minority government, last year pledged to slash Australia's permanent migration intake to address congestion in the big cities.

But critics of the government said it was pandering to the views of the coalition's right-wingers and other far-right politicians ahead of national elections that have to be called by mid-May.

Updated: January 6, 2019 04:34 PM

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