SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Australian police set up road blocks and searched cars heading for Sydney”s beaches on Saturday to prevent a second weekend of racial violence between ethnic Lebanese youths and local surfers.
Australians have been told to stay away from beaches in three cities this weekend, especially Sydney where the checkpoints created traffic jams and left some of the city”s summer playgrounds subdued on a sweltering day a week before Christmas.
"This is not a normal weekend," Deputy Commissioner Andrew Scipione of New South Wales state police told reporters, adding that about 1,500 police were deployed to trouble spots.
"If nothing was to happen this weekend, we would deem our operation a success."
The clashes erupted last weekend in Cronulla beach, in Sydney”s south, where thousands of white Australians attacked people of Middle East appearance and Lebanese and Muslim youths retaliated with two nights of violence.
Cronulla was quiet on Saturday, with just a sprinkling of sun-worshippers and surfers, but Scipione said police had "strong intelligence" that some groups planned disruptions on Sunday, possibly including neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups.
By Sunday, there will be about 2,000 police on Sydney”s beaches, Scipione said.
"We will be taking this very seriously," he said. "If you go there, you will be stopped … We have never had to deal with a situation like this in the past."
Local media has portrayed the violence as a complicated clash of races and sub-cultures, starting with tension between Sydney”s territorial surfing gangs and groups of Muslim youths using the same beaches. It then drew in white supremacists who used the tension to pursue a wider, racist agenda.
During the violence, beach-goers have been attacked with crowbars, kicked and punched. On Thursday, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at police. No one has been killed or seriously injured.
Racist text messages and e-mails have been circulating calling for violence this Sunday and local media has reported talk of Lebanese youths calling themselves the "Lions of Lebanon" coming from across the country to fight at the beaches this weekend.
Police also patrolled beaches north and south of Sydney along a 200 km (120 mile) stretch of coastline, though there were no reports of violence on Saturday.
"It”s like a normal day with surfers out and people walking around in boardies (shorts)," said Dena Smith, who was at Bondi Beach, one of Sydney”s most popular summer destinations.