Sydney suburb on edge as Cronulla race riot anniversary looms

Men gesture during the violence on December 11, 2005 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The seaside Sydney suburb of Cronulla was hit by racially fuelled mob violence on 11 December 2005

It is 10 years since a race riot blew up in the usually tranquil Sydney suburb of Cronulla. An anti-immigration group's plan to hold a "memorial" rally has locals fearing a new outbreak of violence.

The proposed rally has been widely opposed - police have refused to issue it a permit and injunctions to block the event are before the Australian Human Rights Commission and New South Wales Supreme Court.

But anti-multiculturalism group Party for Freedom still plans to go ahead with its event on Saturday.

The party's spokesman, Nick Folkes, told the BBC his group respected the local community and had complied with requests from authorities to stage the rally at a park away from the intended site at Cronulla beach.

Image copyright Chris McGrath/Getty
Image caption An "Aussie Pride" slogan written in the sands of Cronulla beach in Sydney

"We're not going down to start a riot, that's not our intention at all. We understand that Cronulla is a beautiful place," Mr Folkes said.

"What happened 10 years ago protected [it], Cronulla's remained pretty peaceful and they haven't had gangs coming in," Mr Folkes said.

Cronulla race riot: how it happened

  • Cronulla is a predominantly white community with Sydney's only beach easily accessible by train from Sydney's western suburbs, which are home to a large Muslim population.
  • A week prior to the riot in 2005 two surf lifesavers were assaulted, in what was believed to be an unprovoked attack by a large group of men of "Middle Eastern appearance".
  • Texts and emails were used to circulate calls for a revenge fight and a rowdy crowd of about 5,000 gathered on the beach on 11 December
  • The crowd turned, bashing two young men of Middle Eastern appearance, then running to the nearby train station after hearing Lebanese passengers were arriving.
  • There were retaliation attacks from gangs of young Muslim men.
  • Conservative Australian broadcaster Alan Jones was found to have incited hatred for describing Lebanese Muslims as ''vermin'' and ''mongrels'' in the lead-up to the riots.

'Trauma' for Cronulla

Mr Folkes says that some locals support his point of view, but community leaders are adamant that the views of the Party for Freedom are not widely held in Cronulla.

Chamber of commerce spokeswoman Annette Tasker said the rally would be disastrous for local businesses.

Image copyright Cameron Spencer/Getty
Image caption A crowd of around 5,000 people during the 2005 violence

Business owners blamed the riots for a sharp drop in business in the years following 2005, with some reporting drops in trade of up to 50%.

"The trauma that business owners suffered 10 years ago is of no concern to [Party for Freedom] whatsoever," Ms Tasker said.

"Some people didn't make it, they just didn't make it. You can only suffer financial loss for so long.

"It's very hard to overcome fear in a business."

Sutherland Shire Deputy Mayor Hassan Awada, a Muslim who came to Australia from Lebanon, ran a barber shop in Cronulla at the time of the riot.

He said in the wake of the riots he was inundated with support.

"I could not count the number of people who walked into my shop to basically let me know and reassure me that after what happened they were just as disappointed as I was," Mr Awada said.

"They destroyed the local area's reputation [then] and this group is doing exactly the same, claiming to come to the area to support the Australian way of life, but ... destroying it."

'Perfect storm'

Police say there will be a large police presence in Cronulla on Saturday. New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione will make an official statement later in the week.

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Image caption Anti-Islam protests were held in several Australian cities in November, the largest and most violent took place at Melton in Melbourne

Referring to the events of 2005, Mr Scipione told Australia's 60 Minutes in November: "The place was just swimming with alcohol, large crowds, a lot of emotion and then the build of the heat. All of those together, it's almost like a perfect storm."

The Party for Freedom follows an agenda largely focused on preventing Muslims from immigrating to Australia. It was one of the groups involved with Reclaim Australia.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Demonstrations also took place last month at Martin Place in Sydney's CBD

The Reclaim Australia movement has pushed anti-immigration groups into the media spotlight recently with several series of rallies held in major cities this year.

A loose coalition of groups with widely varying agendas, the common in the movement's Australia's ideology is opposition to Islam and a perception that the government kowtows to minority groups.

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