Violence at rival Australian immigration protests

Anti-racism and anti-fascism protesters march against the True Blue Crew at the Parliament House in Melbourn on June 26, 2016.
Anti-racism and anti-fascism protesters march against the True Blue Crew at the Parliament House in Melbourn on June 26, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

SYDNEY (AFP) - Rival immigration protesters clashed for the second time in a month in Melbourne on Sunday (June 26), with three people arrested as the government vowed to crack down on mask-wearing demonstrators.

About 120 people took part in an anti-immigration rally in the country's second largest city waving large Australian flags and carrying posters such as "Islamic refugees not welcome".

Anti-Muslim sentiment has mounted in Australia in recent years after a series of attacks by radicalised youth, including the killing of a police employee in Sydney in October.

Sunday's immigration protesters were confronted by about 200 anti-racism demonstrators, with hundreds of police on site to try and keep the two groups apart.

But some protesters broke through a police line and one man was kicked and punched before officers intervened, Melbourne's The Age newspaper reported.

"Two people were arrested for assault, that's assault of each other, (and) one person was arrested for criminal damage, that's damage of a news reporter's camera," Superintendent David Clayton of Victoria Police told reporters.

The Age said one of its photographer's cameras was damaged by a protester, while footage from the rallies showed some demonstrators burning an Australian flag.

The latest round of clashes - the eighth since November, according to Melbourne's The Age - came as Victoria state's Police Minister Lisa Neville announced new police powers and stronger penalties against protesters who wear masks.

"Victorians have had enough of seeing this sort of incitement of hatred and violence," the Australian Broadcasting Corporation quoted her as saying Sunday.

"If you wear a facemask, you will be removed from a protest," Ms Neville said, adding that the new laws would be introduced later this year.

"If you wear a facemask and commit an offence, you will go to jail for longer."

Seven people were arrested at violent clashes on the streets of the Melbourne suburb of Coburg in late May, with police describing demonstrators' behaviour as appalling.