SYDNEY, (Reuters) – More than 450 policemen, four times the usual number, will patrol Sydney”s streets on Tuesday to prevent a third night of racial violence by youth gangs who have attacked people, smashed cars and hurled rocks at police.
Officials also said the state parliament of New South Wales (NSW) was being called into emergency session on Thursday to give police special powers to "lockdown" parts of Sydney, Australia”s biggest city, to stop the unrest.
Police will also be allowed to ban consumption of alcohol in areas of unrest by shutting down licensed premises and prohibiting anyone from carrying liquor.
The move comes after gangs of youths, mainly of Middle Eastern background, attacked several people with baseball bats, vandalised cars and were involved in rock-throwing skirmishes with police for a second night on Monday, officials said.
Police also said they found 30 Molotov cocktails and crates of rocks stockpiled on rooftops, as hundreds of local surfers gathered at Maroubra Beach.
Sydney”s Catholic Archbishop George Pell said bullets were fired at a school staging Christmas carols in Sydney”s west on Monday night.
"These criminals have declared war on our society and we are not going to let them win," said NSW premier Morris Iemma.
"You will not take control of our streets," he said while announcing the special police powers similar to those for security during the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
The state government will also increase the jail term for rioting from five to 15 years and double the penalty for affray, fighting in public, to 10 years.
Racial violence erupted at Sydney”s Cronulla Beach on Sunday when some 5,000 people, some yelling racist chants, attacked youths of Middle Eastern background.
Drunk mobs of youths, some wrapped in Australian flags, said they were defending their beach after lifesavers were attacked. They believe the attackers were of Lebanese background.
Police said white supremacists incited violence at Cronulla.
Sydney”s Lebanese youths struck back on Sunday night, smashing cars, assaulting people and fighting police in several different suburbs, police said.
On Monday night, hundreds of Muslims were involved in an angry standoff with police outside a Sydney mosque in the western suburbs. Up to 25 cars with youths then drove to Cronulla and used baseball bats to damage cars and smash windows, police said.
Australian media reported that mobile telephone text messages from Australians of Anglo-Saxon and Middle East backgrounds were both calling for revenge attacks to continue.
Islamic youth leader Fadi Abdul Rahman said further trouble could be brewing as Muslim youths were angry, believing police were not treating them fairly.
"They feel they have been dealt with by the authorities differently to the way Anglos have been dealt with," he said. "They feel injustice and they feel angry about it."
Prime Minister John Howard again called on Tuesday for calm and tolerance, but again refused to describe the violence as racist, instead labelling it a law and order issue and "domestic discord", stressing Australia was not a racist nation.
The racial violence has prompted criticism of Australia”s multi-cultural immigration policy, with commentators saying ethnic differences have been fostered for many years.
Many social and ethnic leaders said the violence was primarily "gang warfare" and not purely race riots and that the youths involved felt economically and socially disadvantaged.
Melbourne University language professor Michael Clyne said the Iraq war had fuelled a sense of alienation. "It is very difficult to define a war against terror, so it means anyone can paint their own enemies," Clyne said.
But some politicians laid the blame squarely on racism.
"Sadly if you scratch Australians we are a racist society, it is only in the last 40-odd years that we have got rid of the White Australia (immigration) policy," said Labor opposition politician Harry Quick on television. "We have reached a pressure cooker stage here. People of ethnic minority in Australia are just taking things into their own hands."