Sydney: six charged after violent protest

September 16: Six men have been charged following violent protests in Sydney sparked by an anti-Islamic film.

Violent clashes erupted yesterday after demonstrators marched from Sydney’s Town Hall to Martin Place yesterday afternoon and confronted police outside the US consulate.

Some protesters allegedly threw glass bottles and other missiles at police, forcing officers to use capsicum spray during a melee that led to six police and 17 others being injured.

Seven men and one male juvenile were arrested, with six men so far charged with offences including assaulting police and animal cruelty, police said.

Six police were injured and 17 others were treated for the effects of capsicum spray following the protest.

A 29-year-old man remains in custody and will appear in Parramatta Local Court today, charged with affray and breaching bail.

The other five have been granted bail and will face court next month.

A 24-year-old man has been charged with having an offensive weapon in a public place. Three men, aged 23, 40 and 43, have been charged with resisting police and and a 38-year-old man is charged with committing an act of animal cruelty.

A seventh man is awaiting charging, while a 15-year-old youth has been issued with a caution for offensive behaviour.

Police said last night they would also begin poring through “a significant amount of evidence” that had been gathered through the media and officers, and that anyone caught committing offences would be “vigorously pursued”.

Yesterday’s angry scenes began after about 1pm (AEST), when an “unannounced and unapproved” group of people gathered at Town Hall as part of a global protest against an anti-Islamic film.

Police said the group began walking along George Street towards Martin Place, where they attempted to enter the US consulate, which is located in the MLC Centre.

It was here, according to police, that violence between officers and the growing group first broke out.

Tempers flared again when the demonstrators – then about 300-strong – took their rallying cry to Hyde Park.

Capsicum spray was fired, leaving faces red and inflamed, while one man was seen being dragged along the ground with blood dripping down his face.

Superintendent Mark Walton later said he believed some people went to the protest “armed”, with a view to cause damage and assault police.

“The group was unorganised and clearly split into factions, being some there to express their concerns from their community perspective,” he said.

“However, there were other elements … who were clearly here with another intent.

“They were aggressive and violent at times and came into contact with police.”

Waving banners with slogans such as “Behead all those who insult the Prophet”, protesters listened as one protester told the crowd: “We will never accept the assault on our prophet.”

The rally was the latest in a spate of demonstrations at US embassies and consulates in the Middle East, Africa, Britain and elsewhere against the film, Innocence of Muslims.

Protester Abdullah Sary, who said he wanted a peaceful protest,  said although he had not seen the film, he was offended because it ridiculed the Prophet Mohammed.

“The prophet is more beloved then my family, my wife, my mother and myself. So if someone says this, you can see how upsetting it is.”

After some time the protest seemed to die down.

The men – with more than 100 police standing in a ring around them – formed lines, fell to their knees and began to pray.

The prayers were followed by more yelling, with the male-dominated group punching their fists in the air and chanting “Down, down USA.”

Eventually, however, the protesters decided to move on.

But when they began leaving the park, tensions flared as riot police with batons and shields stood at one of the exits.

Sticks and bottles were hurled, before police surged up the stairs, restraining some protesters and chasing others.

The splintered crowd broke up further, travelling down William Street and throughout Darlinghurst’s back streets with riot police, mounted police and uniformed officers in pursuit.

Finally, smaller groups of protesters were cornered and then directed to split up and disperse.

Tallying up the damage, Supt Walton said last night eight people had been arrested, two had been taken to hospital for dog bites and 17 others were treated for the effects of the capsicum spray.

Meanwhile two officers were taken to hospital, another four were injured and at least two police vehicles were damaged.

All levels and sides of politics were quick to condemn the protest with Prime Minister Julia Gillard issuing a statement saying: “Violent protest is never acceptable – not today, not ever.”

“The right to protest comes with an equal responsibility to do so peacefully,” NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell said.

“That responsibility has been comprehensively ignored today.”

Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott told the Seven Network it was “completely, utterly and absolutely unacceptable”, adding those responsible for the violence should be prosecuted.

Greens leader Christine Milne said there was no place for violent protests in Australia.

“We welcome clear statements from leaders and members of the Islamic community in Australia condemning the violence and noting that this protest is not representative of them.”

Despite the violence Supt Walton said “there was potential for it to escalate” far more than it did and that he was “quite comfortable” with the way police reacted.

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