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Racial violence shocks Australian city
Updated: 2005-12-12 15:02

Thousands of drunken white youths attacked police and people they believed were Arab immigrants at a Sydney beach on Sunday, angered by reports that youths of Lebanese descent had assaulted two lifeguards.

Racial violence shocks Australian city
An image from Australia's Sky News shows a man shouting as police stand by to quell racial violence which erupted on Sydney beaches on December 11, 2005. Australian Prime Minister John Howard denied that government warnings of home-grown Islamic militants had fuelled weekend race riots targeting Middle Easterners. [AFP/Sky News]

Young men of Arab descent retaliated in several Sydney suburbs, fighting with police and smashing 40 cars with sticks and bats, police said.

Thirty-one people were injured and 28 were arrested in hours of violence. Police said they were seeking an Arab man who allegedly stabbed a white man in the back.

The city was calm Monday, and police formed a strike force to track down the instigators.

Some 5,000 white youths, wrapped in Australian flags and chanting racist slurs, fought with police, attacked people of Arab appearance and assaulted a pair of paramedics at Cronulla beach in southern Sydney, police said. Police fought back with batons and pepper spray.

Racial violence shocks Australian city
A man is arrested at Cronulla Beach in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2005, after ethnic tensions erupted into running battles between police and a mob of thousands of youths, many chanting racial slurs. At least six people were arrested and several injured in alcohol-fueled fights at the beach. [AP]

Prime Minister John Howard condemned the violence, but said he did not believe racism was widespread in Australia.

"Attacking people on the basis of their race, their appearance, their ethnicity, is totally unacceptable and should be repudiated by all Australians irrespective of their own background and their politics," Howard said.

He added, "I'm not going to put a general tag (of) racism on the Australian community."

The rioters were reacting to reports that youths of Lebanese descent were responsible for an attack last weekend on two of the beach's lifeguards.

Police had increased the number of officers patrolling the beach after mobile phone text messages circulated calling for retaliation for the attack on the guards.

One white teenager among the rioters had the words "We grew here, you flew here" painted on his back. On the sand, someone had written "100 percent Aussie pride."

Two paramedics in an ambulance were injured as they tried to help youths trying to escape rioters, when members of the mob smashed the vehicle's windows and kicked its doors.

TV broadcasts showed a group of young women attacking another woman, whose ethnicity was not immediately clear.

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