(SOURCE) The centre of the Victorian city of Bendigo was shut down as several hundred people gathered to protest against anti-Islamic groups and show their support for a planned mosque.
Victoria’s planning tribunal approved a permit for the city’s first mosque earlier this month despite stiff opposition to the project from local residents.
On Saturday three anti-racism groups held rallies in opposition to a protest by the anti-Islam group United Patriots Front (UPF), which opposes the mosque.
The anti-racism demonstrators chanted: “Muslims are welcome, racists are not” and “Nazi scum off our streets”.
Large numbers of police officers were on the scene to keep the two sides apart.
Several small scuffles broke out but were quickly contained.
The different groups continued to try and circle around police lines to have a head-on confrontation, but were kept apart.
Some wore masks to hide their identity and some residents said they were afraid of what was going on.
One angry resident said it was “absolutely ridiculous” the protests had shut down the centre of town.
Another called it a hindrance to people going about their normal daily business, while a visitor called the protests “confrontational”.
Bendigo Councillor Elise Chapman watched the speeches with an Australian flag draped over her shoulders, holding a sign that said, “Islam oppresses women”.
Members of the UPF vowed they would go “wherever they wanted because this land belongs to us” in a posting on Facebook before the protest.
The Victorian and Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) found there was “no evidence of any significant social or other effects to the community” as a result of the mosque.
But VCAT imposed a series of conditions on the development, including caps on the number of people allowed on site at specific times, a height limit of 21.4 metres for the mosque’s minaret, and restrictions on the opening hours.