SYDNEY • Hundreds of pro-China demonstrators marched through Sydney yesterday in response to a growing number of rallies in support of the Hong Kong democracy protests as tensions between the two groups rise in Australia.
They marched through the city chanting "One China", waving the Chinese flag and holding placards saying "Stop riots end violence in Hong Kong".
"There has been a lot of violence and violent protests in Hong Kong," a Sydney-based lawyer and rally organiser who asked only to be called Zhao told Agence France-Presse. "And Hong Kong people have suffered from that and we want to voice our call for peace and order in Hong Kong."
Police had to escort a lone pro-democracy supporter from the Sydney event after he was set upon by a mob of angry demonstrators.
Meanwhile, a pro-Hong Kong rally has been planned for today in Sydney.
In downtown Melbourne, over 100 people gathered yesterday for a rally in support of protesters in Hong Kong while a similar protest took place in London.
With the Asian financial hub plunged into crisis by months of pro-democracy protests, several small public rallies of support by Hong Kong students have been held at Australian universities.
These have angered some mainland Chinese students and have led to several heated confrontations and scuffles on campus.
China's Brisbane consulate praised the "spontaneous patriotism" of pro-Beijing students after a clash at one university.
It immediately drew a sharp rebuke from Canberra, which warned diplomats against undermining fundamental rights or "encouraging disruptive or potentially violent behaviour".
On Friday, the protests moved from the campus to the streets, with hundreds of people rallying in support of the Hong Kong democracy movement in major Australian cities.
Police had to break up heated confrontations in Melbourne and Sydney between supporters and opponents of the Hong Kong protests.
"We understand that there will be different ideas," pro-Hong Kong democracy rally leader Dennis Chui told AFP, after a small number of Chinese nationalist activists confronted demonstrators on Friday.
"(But) freedom and democracy are core values in Australia and we have to respect this," he added.
Police in Melbourne issued a warning yesterday after small scuffles erupted between opposite camps of the Hong Kong protest movement during a rally attended by several hundred people from the city's Chinese community on Friday evening.
"We respect the right of the community to express their views peacefully and lawfully but will not tolerate those who break the law or engage in anti-social or violent behaviour," a Victoria police spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.
The police said that they interviewed two men in relation to"unlawful assault" and released them pending summons, after pushing and shoving took place at the rally organised in support of the Hong Kong protesters.
Australian media reported the rally attracted 600 people at its peak. No injuries were reported.
Chinese now account for nearly 10 per cent of the overseas-born population in Australia, according to government statistics.
China sends the highest number of international students to Australia, accounting for 29 per cent of the 622,000 total enrolled in May, according to data from the Department of Education.