Sun, Apr 05, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Hundreds protest in fear of Muslim law in Australia

AFP, SYDNEY

Protesters attend a Reclaim Australia rally against religious extremism in Sydney yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Protesters waving Australian flags and carrying signs with slogans such as “Yes Australia. No Sharia” rallied around the nation yesterday in events that organizers said were against Muslim extremism.

The “Reclaim Australia” events drew hundreds of supporters, but also triggered counterrallies from other groups who criticized them as racist and called for greater tolerance.

“We are pro-Australian values and anti-extreme Islam, but we are not anti-Muslim,” Reclaim Australia spokeswoman Catherine Brennan told reporters, adding that there is no racism behind the rallies, which she said have attracted people from diverse backgrounds.

“Since when is it being racist to love your country and to love the values and culture that you have been brought up with?” she asked.

Reclaim Australia’s John Oliver told the Australian Broadcasting Corp that the group was “not against any particular race or any particular religion.”

“We are against the extremists of one particular religion,” he said. “I know in Sydney and Melbourne, they’ve got Muslims already signed on to attend because they can see what’s happening and they don’t like what’s happening.”

In Sydney, hundreds braved the rain to rally in Martin Place, near the site of a deadly siege in which a lone assailant said to be inspired by the Islamic State group took customers and staff hostage in a cafe in December last year. Two people, and the gunman, were killed in that incident.

“We have an extreme ideology called Islam which is starting to gain a foothold in our societies,” one speaker told the event, where one person held a sign reading: “No Islam. No Sharia. No Halal.”

In Melbourne, tensions between competing protesters led to scuffles, with officers on horseback forming a barrier between groups, and paramedics treating several people for injuries.

Police officers arrested three people in Melbourne, while a man in Hobart was arrested for assault and two women were removed for breaching the peace at the Sydney rally.

In Queensland, former politician Pauline Hanson defended the rallies, which Reclaim Australia on its Web site said were against Shariah and the burqa and in support of gender equality.

“We have people here today who stand against racism. So do I,” Hanson said.

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