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Sydney police get riot powers

BBC | December 15 2005

Emergency measures to prevent civil unrest have been passed in the Australian state of New South Wales, following a wave of racial violence.

Police will have new powers to enforce strict curfews, confiscate cars and ban alcohol sales.

More violence is feared this weekend, as text messages inciting unrest are being sent to many parts of Australia.

According to local media, more than 1,000 extra officers will be deployed in the suburbs of Sydney.

The state parliament passed the new rules in a special emergency session on Thursday.

State Premier Morris Iemma told the New South Wales parliament that the authorities were determined to give police the powers they needed to stop the violence.

"Louts and criminals have effectively declared war on our society, and we are not going to let them undermine our way of life," Mr Iemma was quoted as saying by the French news agency AFP.

As part of the changes, police will be able to cordon off trouble spots, stop and search vehicles and seize cars and mobile telephones for up to seven days.

They will also be given the power to close bars and other licensed premises and declare alcohol-free zones.

The maximum sentences for rioting and affray have been increased, and there will be tougher penalties for assault during public disorder.

Revenge attack

The large-scale violence in Sydney started on Sunday, when thousands of young white men attacked people of Arabic and Mediterranean background on Cronulla Beach - apparently in revenge for a recent attack on two lifeguards.

Many of the rioters had been alerted to congregate in the area by receiving text messages.

Apparently in retaliation for the violence, groups described by police as having "Middle Eastern or Mediterranean" appearance were involved in two nights of violence and vandalism.

On Thursday, Prime Minister John Howard called for calm.

"What we have to try to do is calm everybody down, change the law where necessary, support the police and then reflect in the weeks ahead as to what some of the fundamental reasons are," he told reporters.

"Maybe there were warning signs around that have been ignored that shouldn't have been ignored, but let's not do that in the heat of current events."

Local Lebanese leaders and southern Sydney communities also met on Thursday to try and find a solution to the problem.

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