Pro-Hong Kong group clashes with rival protesters in Melbourne as rallies take place across Australia
- Fights broke out in Melbourne, where a pro-Beijing demonstrator attacked an ABC reporter
- Confrontations between the groups also took place at rallies in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide
Rallies were held in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne from around midday through to 9pm local time, part of a global wave of protests under the banner #StandWithHK.
In Melbourne, a pro-democracy group of more than 2,000 packed the steps of the state library while about 150 pro-China protesters sang the national anthem and waved the Chinese flag just metres away.
“We will not give up! Free Hong Kong now!” the protesters chanted, some waving the city’s former colonial flag.
Protest leaders recited the five demands their movement has issued to the Hong Kong government – the complete withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill; the withdrawal of the use of the word “riot” in relation to protests; the unconditional release of arrested protesters, and charges against them dropped; an independent inquiry into police behaviour; and the implementation of universal suffrage.
Before too long, fights started to break out between the groups, with one pro-Beijing demonstrator attacking a news crew from the ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
One of the organisers of the pro-democracy rally, Jane Poon, said the event had been a success despite the clashes.
“We showed our strength and we did it peacefully. The fights were started by the pro-China demonstrators who showed up,” said Poon, from Australia-Hong Kong Link, a Melbourne-based community organisation.
She said the protest was approved by local police and the city council, but she had to call the police when the scuffles broke out.
By 8pm, an hour after the protest began, police formed a line between the two groups and advised organisers to begin dispersing – an hour earlier than planned.
Asked why more police were not present at the start of the protest, a Victoria Police spokeswoman said “no answer can be provided until we see a post-event report”.
“We do not give police numbers for operational reasons,” she added.
In a statement to the South China Morning Post ahead of the Melbourne rally, Victoria Police said they were aware it was taking place – but warned instead of “a strong police presence” on Saturday, when another pro-democracy demonstration organised by a separate anti-Beijing group made up of Hong Kong, Uygur and Tibet activists is expected to take place.
Chinese media outlet Australian Red Scarf had previously announced that pro-Beijing protests would also take place in Melbourne on Saturday morning, but their “Support One China Principle” event was cancelled.
“Individuals have the right to lawfully attend events and protests, however we ask that people do so peacefully and respectfully without impacting on the rest of the community,” said the statement from Victoria Police about the planned Saturday rally.
“Victoria Police will not tolerate those who break the law or engage in antisocial or violent behaviour.”
Friday night’s tensions in the heart of Melbourne came just hours after the Adelaide rally, where organisers said about 100 people turned up to show their support for Hong Kong’s anti-extradition bill protesters, while another up to 200 pro-Beijing supporters also turned out.
There were 300 pro-Hong Kong supporters in Brisbane, while 500 attended a similar rally in Sydney.
“There was no physical harassment involved though,” said Jennifer Lau, a 25-year-old university student at the University of South Australia.
Lau said organisers in Adelaide had forewarned police of a potential confrontation between opposing groups after receiving threats on social media.
“We called [the police] in advance since some Chinese threatened to kill and rape us … they said that in their WeChat groups, or posted it on our Facebook page.”
Video of the Adelaide protest showed police separating the two groups outside the University of South Australia, with both sides shouting slogans. There were no reports of violence from the rally.
“They were swearing at us and singing the national anthem,” Lau said.