Australian police arrest six at Black Lives Matter rally for violating virus ban

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian police on Tuesday arrested six people and ordered around 50 more to disperse after they gathered in Sydney for a Black Lives Matter protest despite an official ban due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Police officers issue citation tickets to protesters after police shut down a rally deemed illegal, in Sydney, Australia, July 28, 2020. REUTERS / Loren Elliott

The march was intended to highlight the deaths of Indigenous people in custody, building on the momentum of global rallies for racial justice and against police brutality.

Police had said the rally was unauthorized and violated coronavirus prevention measures, a position supported by a court ruling on Monday, as Australia grapples with a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Police said they arrested six people before the march was scheduled to start in a public park and ordered others to leave the area, saying people had been warned enough to stay away.

“Over the past 24 hours we have said time and time again, don’t show up,” NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Mick Willing told reporters in Sydney. “We are in the middle of a pandemic.”

Of the six people arrested, five were each fined AU $ 1,000 for defying the court order banning the gathering. The sixth was fined for using offensive language.

Reuters estimated that there were about 50 people gathered on a rainy day in the city, well below the 500 people organizers expected.

Australia reported its largest single-day increase in cases on Monday after a surge in infections in Victoria state. Neighboring NSW, of which Sydney is the capital, is also battling several clusters of the virus.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt had called on people not to attend the rally, urging them to use social media platforms or hold a silent vigil outside their homes.

Australia has recorded around 15,000 cases of COVID-19 and 167 deaths, although officials fear both are increasing.

Reporting by Renju Jose, Colin Packham, Jill Gralow and James Redmayne; Edited by Jane Wardell

Our standards:Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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