NSW premier Iemma acts to halt further race riots

AFP , SYDNEY

Mon, Jan 23, 2006 - Page 5

More police on the beaches and forcing children to sing the national anthem at school were among a series of moves announced yesterday in a bid to avoid a repeat of last month's race riots in Sydney.

"Australian values" studies would also be introduced in primary schools throughout New South Wales state of which Sydney is the capital, Premier Morris Iemma said.

Racial violence which erupted on Sydney's Cronulla Beach on Dec. 11 when a white mob attacked people of Middle Eastern appearance shocked the city, Australia's biggest and most cosmopolitan.

The riots led to retaliatory attacks over two days, mainly by ethnic Lebanese men, in which churches, shops and cars were trashed.

The racial violence had demonstrated the need to build respect for authority within the community, Iemma said.

"I believe that what occurred in December with the riots in Cronulla, Brighton and Maroubra revealed a fundamental lack of respect" for other people and common decency, he said.

Making sure students sang the national anthem and were taught about issues such as community harmony and respect would address some of the root causes of violence, he told reporters.

Iemma also announced that up to 800 police would be deployed to deal with any racial violence on Australia's national day on Thursday after a white supremacist group called for a rally at Cronulla Beach.

Up to 25,000 people are expected to gather at Cronulla for celebrations including fireworks and "Opera by the Beach."

"You want to cause trouble on Australia Day, there will be police to meet you, arrest you and deal with you before the courts," Iemma said.

The far-right Australia First Party called the rally to press for charges against white rioters to be dropped, accusing police of failing to arrest "the Middle Eastern men responsible for nights of retaliatory violence."

Some of the drunken white youths involved in the Cronulla riot had draped themselves in the national flag before attacking people of Middle Eastern appearance in order to "reclaim the beach."

Several of the whites have been refused bail as they await trial for their part in the violence, while a 24-year-old Lebanese-born man has been jailed for three months for burning an Australian flag at a surf lifesaving club.

A statement on the Australia First website said "patriotic Australians should peacefully assemble in Cronulla on January 26 to register their disgust with selective policing."

The Australia First Party is not represented in parliament and has been linked to neo-Nazi organizations.

Lebanese Muslim Association spokesman Abdul El Ayoubi criticized Australia First for trying to use a national day celebration at Cronulla to fuel divisions.

"I think they need to stay away," he said. "They're trying to stir up trouble. They're trying to incite violence between white Australians and ethnic Australians."