Arrests and police clashes in rival protest stand-off

Rachael Ward |

Police have clashed with protesters in front of Victoria’s parliament.
Police have clashed with protesters in front of Victoria’s parliament.

Six people have been arrested during a tense protest stand-off in Melbourne as activists clashed with police who separated two rival demonstrations.

Victoria Police estimate 7000 people attended either the anti-Semitism demonstration outside state parliament or the pro-Palestine counter-protest about 100 metres further along Spring Street on Sunday afternoon.

The pro-Palestine protest began at the State Library of Victoria earlier in the day before some supporters relocated to the top of the city.

Police and protesters clash
Police and pro-Palestine protesters have clashed in central Melbourne. (Con Chronis/AAP PHOTOS)

The two groups were initially separated by dozens of officers who set up a barrier around the anti-Semitic protest but police ranks quickly grew as tensions escalated across several hours.

At least one person briefly went over the police barrier as several others clashed with officers, with the mounted branch venturing out into the pro-Palestine protest at one point.

Outside parliament, a large crowd including some waving Israeli flags attended a rally organisers said was intended to promote social cohesion and stand against hate and anti-Semitism.

Former Victorian premier Ted Baillieu, state Liberal MP David Southwick and political figure Warren Mundine were among those who attended the rally organised by a “Christian grassroots movement”.

Pro-Palestine protest
Pro-Palestine protest organisers urged supporters to avoid the anti-Semitism demonstrators. (Con Chronis/AAP PHOTOS)

A video message from Opposition Leader Peter Dutton was played to the crowd.

“In the battle against anti-Semitism in Australia, I say to Australians of Jewish faith, you are not alone,” Mr Dutton said in the message.

“The fight will not be yours alone.”

Victoria Police said organisers notified them of both events and officers formed lines to “prevent violence” between the two groups when the counter-protest started.

The six arrests related to various charges including assaulting police and hindering police, with all people released pending summons.

“Victoria Police respects the right for people to protest lawfully however we ask that they do so peacefully without impacting the broader community,” the force said in a statement.

Police and protesters at Melbourne rally
Police warned they would have a highly visible presence at protests in Melbourne’s CBD. (Con Chronis/AAP PHOTOS)

Trams were stopped from entering the area outside parliament and the top end of Bourke Street, which is usually bustling on a weekend. 

Several members of the public were seen enjoying a meal at hospitality venues located between the two demonstrations as loud music and chants rang out through the city.

Earlier in the day, protest group Free Palestine Melbourne posted a message to social media urging supporters to exercise caution and avoid the anti-Semitism demonstrators who they warned could “provoke violent confrontation”.

The crowd at the pro-Palestine demonstration chanted phrases including “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.