Nearly 2,000 protesters gathered in Melbourne after rallies throughout the weekend in major cities
Fresh protests erupted in Melbourne as thousands marched on Tuesday against a recent government order shutting construction sites for two weeks until workers get at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
Nearly 2,000 protesters took over streets at peak traffic hour, according to news agency Reuters. Some of those in the crowd damaged cars including police vehicles, and set off flares, reported local media.
The demonstrators included not just construction workers, but also many who opposed mandatory vaccines against Covid-19. Local media reports said protesters chanted: “F**k the jab.”
Aerial views of the protests shared on social media showed streams of people sprawling across the West Gate Freeway on the outskirts of the Melbourne city centre.
The police used pepper balls, foam baton rounds, smoke rounds and stinger grenades to contain the protests and arrested more than 60, reported Reuters.
“This was a very, very large and very, very angry group,” Shane Patton, police commissioner in the southeastern state of Victoria, told reporters, adding that the protest breached Covid lockdown rules. “And it was a challenging and confronting environment,” he added.
“Any police force would have been challenged by the spontaneity and the sheer mass of numbers we saw from this group, and the tactics they employed throughout the day,” Mr Patton was quoted as saying by ABC News.
He said three officers were injured during the protests.
Justifying the use of police force, Mr Patton told the news organisation the “crowd control equipment munitions were necessary” as they “can’t allow this kind of conduct to go on.”
Authorities aimed to deploy more than 500 police officials on Wednesday to deter the protests, he added.
Channel 7 journalist Paul Dowsley was also attacked by the protesters while reporting live, with cans of drinks being thrown at him. “I’ve been grabbed around the neck today, I’ve had urine tipped on me, and now I’ve had a can of energy drink thrown on me,” he was quoted as saying.
Protesters fumed against the Victoria government’s mandate, which was temporarily stopped, said the state health minister.
“The public health team was left with no choice but to hit the pause button and continue to work with the sector over the next two weeks to improve compliance… and slow the spread of the virus,” Martin Foley told reporters.
Victoria’s premier Dan Andrews said, “acts of violence and disruption won’t result in one less case of COVID – in fact it only helps the virus to spread”. Several of the protesters could be seen holding up placards against the premier. “Andrews is the virus,” read one such placard.
Australia has imposed a lockdown in the cities of Sydney and Canberra to contain the spread of the infection from Delta variant. Several protests in the cities, however, erupted over the weekend against the imposition of strict measures.
The forced closure of building sites is likely to make Australia’s economic woes worse, said experts. Some forecast that an extended lockdown could potentially push the country’s $1.45 trillion (£1.06tn) economy into a second recession.
Additional reporting from agencies