Racial Violence Continues in Australia
Filed at 4:34 p.m. ET
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Violence spilled into a second night Monday as scores of youths drove through predominantly white suburbs of Sydney, smashing windows of cars, homes and stores and raising fears of spreading racial unrest.
Prime Minister John Howard called the violence ''sickening,'' but denied it was rooted in racism. Arab community leaders said the unrest would heighten racial tensions as cell phone text messages warned of retribution by the Arab community and attacks by neo-Nazi groups.
About 5,000 white men, many of them drunk, targeted people believed to be of Arab or Middle Eastern descent on Cronulla Beach on Sunday after rumors spread that Lebanese youths assaults two lifeguards earlier this month.
Police, who had stepped up patrols on the beach after learning of cell phone text messages urging people to retaliate for the attack on the lifeguards, fought back with batons and pepper spray.
Young men of Arab descent struck back in several Sydney suburbs Sunday, fighting with police for hours and smashing dozens of cars with sticks and bats, police said. They said 31 people were injured, including a white man who was allegedly stabbed in the back, and 16 arrested.
Carloads of youths also tore through the suburbs Monday night, attacking vehicles and throwing bottles through windows. While only one person was reported injured and six arrested, there appeared to be more damage to cars and stores than on Sunday.
Television images of Sunday's riot shocked Australians, who pride themselves on tolerance and credit an influx of immigrants with helping build up the country after World War II.
Tensions between youths of Arabic and Middle Eastern descent and white Australians have been rising in recent years, fueled by the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States and deadly bombings on Bali that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
Many Muslims also were angered over Howard's decision to contribute troops to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, Keysar Trad, said the violence was ''bound to happen'' following angry calls to radio talk shows after the attack on the lifeguards. Police have denied the assault on the lifeguards was racially motivated.
The unrest recalled three weeks of rioting in France that began in the suburbs of Paris on Oct. 27 and spread nationwide, baring frustration in communities with high immigrant and Muslim populations.
Police spokesman Paul Bugden said he did not have descriptions of those involved in Monday night's rampage, but said it was linked to Sunday's rioting.
Witnesses told an Associated Press photographer that some youths involved in the attacks were Middle Eastern or Arabic in appearance and others wore ski masks. Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported that police said men of Middle Eastern appearance were involved.
New text messages calling for more violence reportedly were being circulated. ''We'll show them!'' one message said, according to The Australia newspaper.
Howard defended Australia's policy of tolerance, noting that the nation has successfully absorbed millions of foreigners. ''I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country,'' he said.
His comments were clearly aimed at immigrants and their families. Howard repeatedly has come under criticism for refusing to apologize for past government abuses of Aborigines, Australia's poorest and least educated minority group.
Morris Iemma, premier of New South Wales state, said police would find those behind the violence. ''Let's be very clear, the police will be unrelenting in their fight against these thugs and hooligans,'' he said.
About 300 people of Arab descent demonstrated against Sunday's attack outside one of Sydney's largest mosques, amid tight security.
''Arab Australians have had to cope with vilification, racism, abuse and fear of a racial backlash for a number of years, but these riots will take that fear to a new level,'' said Roland Jabbour, chairman of the Australian Arabic Council.
In the 2001 census, nearly a quarter of Australia's 20 million people said they were born overseas. The country has about 300,000 Muslims, most in lower income suburbs of large cities.
A resident of the predominantly white suburb of Brighton-Le-Sands, Steven Dawson, said a bottle thrown through his apartment window Monday showered his 5-month-old son with glass, but did not hurt the boy.
Horst Dreizner said a car was rammed through the front doors of his denture store. ''Personally, I think it is only the beginning,'' he said by telephone.
The violence distressed residents of Sydney.
''What we have seen yesterday is something I thought I would never see in Australia,'' Community Relations Commission chairman Stepan Kerkyasharian told Sky News.
Religious leaders urged calm, with Roman Catholic Archbishop Cardinal George Pell urging people to ''reject the extremists in both camps and work together so that this is the end of major disturbances, not the beginning of something worse.''