A weekend of marches organised by a group called Reclaim Australia saw thousands of protesters across the country flood the streets of major cities to voice their opposition to radical Islam.
Marchers were met by counter rallies from self-described ‘anti-racism’ protesters with police forced to intervene.
The biggest march was in the New South Wales state capital of Sydney. According to ABC Australia, five people were arrested, with police charging one 40-year-old woman with assaulting police.
A 57-year-old man was issued a notice to attend court over offensive behaviour, while a 35-year-old man and two 19-year-old men were arrested for breaching the peace and released without charge.
In the far north Queensland city of Rockhampton, a rally saw former federal member of Parliament Pauline Hanson make an appearance. She told the 200-strong crowd she was “against the spread of Islam” and that Australia was changing for the worse.
“We have other different religions that have never been a problem in Australia,” she said. “I’m not targeting Muslims — I’m targeting the ideology, what Islam stands for.”
Protests in other cities including Brisbane, Perth, Hobart and Canberra passed without any major incidents.
The anti-racism counter rally participants in Sydney directly challenged their opponents’ right to march and called them racist. This was despite the fact Reclaim Australia members were challenging a religion – not a race of people.
Protester Fahad Ali, 21, told the Daily Mail Australia he came to the counter rally because he believed the Reclaim Australia group posed “a danger to the fabric of Australian multiculturalism”.
“When I think about what these people stand for I have to think about the harm they would want to enact upon me, my mother, my sister or my brothers and that is not something that I am comfortable with as an Australian and I believe is something we should all fight against.”
He said the counter rally activists set out with the intentions of having a “peaceful gathering”.
“What we are trying to do is convey a message and if there is any kind of violence that becomes the focus and that is not what we are about, what we stand for or believe in.”
Violent clashes in the southern city of Melbourne on Saturday saw hundreds of police called in and officers used capsicum spray to subdue the opposing crowds.
Bottles were thrown and protesters from both sides were punched and kicked as they clashed.