Sydney: Thousands marched through Australia’s two biggest cities in anti-lockdown protests on Saturday, sparking violent clashes with police in Sydney.
Dozens of protesters were arrested after an unauthorised march flouted public health orders in Sydney, while several confrontations with police broke out during the hours-long rally.
Officers were pelted with pot plants and bottles of water as opponents of Sydney’s month-long stay-at-home order took to the streets in numbers.
Thousands also crowded several streets in Melbourne after gathering outside the state parliament in the early afternoon.
The largely maskless protesters were flouting rules on non-essential travel and public gatherings, a day after authorities suggested the restrictions could remain in place until October.
"I am utterly disgusted by the illegal protesters in the city today whose selfish actions have compromised the safety of all of us," the premier of Sydney’s state of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, said in a statement.
"The protesters have shown utter contempt for their fellow citizens who are currently doing it tough."
Hundreds of police responded to the Sydney protest, with several demonstrators pulled from the crowd in handcuffs by officers. Police said they issued nearly 100 fines and arrested 57 people.
Police in Melbourne said six people were arrested.
New South Wales Police Minister David Elliott said a team of detectives would be scouring footage to identify and charge as many people as possible in the coming days.
"What we saw today in Sydney is unfortunately something that we’ve seen in cities that we all shake our head at," Elliott told the media after the protest.
"It’s quite clear that you know, Sydney isn’t immune from morons as well."
He also said he expected the gathering to drive a spike in Covid-19 cases and urged all those who attended to get tested and isolated. Organisers had dubbed the protest a "freedom" rally and publicised it on social media pages frequently used to spread vaccine disinformation and conspiracy theories.
Attendees carried signs and banners reading "Wake up Australia" and "Drain the Swamp" -- echoing messages seen in similar demonstrations overseas.
Helicopters buzzed above the streets of Sydney, a city of over five million people that is struggling to contain an outbreak of the Delta variant. The state of New South Wales reported 163 new infections Saturday to bring its total in the current outbreak to nearly 2,000.
After escaping much of the early pandemic unscathed, around half of Australia’s 25 million people are now in lockdown across several cities. There is growing anger at the restrictions and the conservative government’s failure to provide adequate vaccine supplies. Just 11 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, China has supplied over 10,000 Covid vaccines to a Myanmar rebel group operating near its southern border, its spokesman said Saturday, as Beijing seeks to halt the influx of cases from the coup-wracked country.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military took power in February, with a resurgent virus wave striking with many hospitals empty of pro-democracy medical staff. The Kachin Independence Army, which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Myanmar’s far north, has received 10,000 vaccines from Yunnan authorities, Col Naw Bu, a spokesperson for KIA told AFP.
In a related development, thousands of people protested in cities across Italy Saturday against the government’s introduction of restrictions on unvaccinated people as Rome tries to slow an upturn in Covid-19 infections. "Freedom!" and "Down with the dictatorship!" chanted Italian flag-waving demonstrators from Naples in the south to Turin in the north, while rain-soaked protesters in Milan shouted "No Green Pass!".
The vast majority were not wearing masks.
The Green Pass, which is an extension of the EU’s digital Covid certificate, will be required from August 6 to enter cinemas, museums, indoor swimming pools or sports stadiums, or eat indoors at restaurants.
It will serve as proof bearers have either been vaccinated, undergone a recent negative Covid-19 test, or recovered from a coronavirus infection.
Business owners are expected to enforce the rules or face stiff fines under the measure adopted by the cabinet this week as it attempts to protect the slowly recovering economy and prevent further lockdowns.
A proposal to make the pass mandatory for travelling by train, coach or plane is expected to be re-evaluated in September.
"Better to die free than live like slaves!" read one placard held up outside Milan’s Gothic cathedral, while another in Rome’s historic centre read "Vaccines set you free" over a picture of the gates to Auschwitz.
Protesters in Genova were wearing yellow Star of David badges declaring them "unvaccinated".
Demonstrations had been announced on social media for Saturday in at least 80 cities.
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