Thousands of anti-lockdown protesters gathered in Australia’s two largest cities on Saturday, including several arrested in Sydney after fierce clashes with police.
A group charged officers on horseback while throwing potted plants and bottles, as opponents of Sydney’s month-long stay-at-home orders took to the streets.
In Melbourne, local media said thousands of protesters took to the streets after rallying outside the state parliament in the early afternoon.
Unmasked protesters flouted rules on non-essential travel and public gatherings a day after authorities suggested the restrictions could remain in place until October.
Sydney Police said they have launched a “high visibility police operation” in response to the protest.
“So far during the operation, a number of people have been arrested,” the force said.
Organizers called the rally a “freedom” rally and made it public on social media pages frequently used to spread misinformation about vaccines and conspiracy theories.
# photo1 Participants carried signs and banners reading “Wake up Australia” and “Drain the Swamp” – echoing messages seen at similar protests overseas.
Helicopters have hummed the streets above Sydney, a city of five million people struggling to contain an outbreak of the Delta variant.
Similar gatherings were planned in other urban centers.
The state of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital, reported 163 new cases on Saturday for a total of nearly 2,000 infections in the current outbreak.
After escaping much of the first pandemic unharmed, around half of Australia’s 25 million are now confined to several cities.
There is growing anger at the restrictions – which are often only partially observed – and the failure of the Conservative government to provide adequate supplies of vaccines.
Only 11% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Stephen Jones, Member of the National Parliament in Sydney, called the protesters “selfish and reckless idiots”.
“No one wants to be locked up. This is exactly how you continue. “
Police said they support “freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, however, today’s protest is in violation of current COVID-19 public health orders.”
© 2021 AFP