Violent clashes erupted between rival protesters at a demonstration against the construction of a mosque in the city of Bendigo, Victoria State, in Australia Saturday. The event ended with an Australian flag being burnt, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported.
A large number of far-right United Patriots Front (UPF) supporters broke through police lines and started fighting with anti-racism protesters on the on the steps of the Bendigo Town Hall on Saturday afternoon. Riot police intervened and were able to restore order after spraying the fighting factions with pepper spray.
According to according to the AAP, UPF spokesman Blair Cottrell, who was suffering from the effects of the spray, said residents did not want the mosque. Meanwhile, anti-racism leader Ezekiel Ox denounced the presence of the police, labelling them "genocidal maniacs".
Capsicum spray has been deployed on anti-Islam protestors pic.twitter.com/8bXA8i70Qr
— Tom Cowie (@tom_cowie) August 29, 2015
Greater Bendigo mayor Peter Cox expressed his disappointment that people from "outside" Bendigo had decided to come to the city to cause trouble. "It certainly doesn't put Bendigo in the best situation," he told AAP. "We are a welcoming, giving and thoughtful city."
The mayor also praised the police for doing a good job of keeping the rival factions apart. The police had called on additional reserves in what was dubbed the largest police operation for the Victoria state police outside Melbourne because of the threat of violence.
Central Victoria police chief Superintendent Mick West praised the 350-strong police staff who quickly quelled the violence. "We are pretty pleased with the result," he said. "There has been a lot of preparation and planning that has gone into this [and] it is safe to say it's one of the biggest operations outside Melbourne's city centre."
The rally began at around 1.30 p.m. (local time) on Aug. 29 in the centre of Bendigo, where UPF demonstrators gathered to protest against the AUS$3m (approximately $2.14 million) mosque, which was approved by the local council last year. Most shops in the city centre were closed because of advice from police in the days leading up to the rally.
The violence was reported to have begun after an anti-fascist protester burned an Australian flag, incensing the around 300 UPF supporters, a splinter group of Reclaim Australia. A number or the UPF supporters charged towards the 250 members of the opposing group No Room for Racism. No arrests were made and no injuries were reported by the police.