Far-right and anti-racism groups face off in Melbourne flashpoint

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Tensions reached boiling point at St Kilda beach in Melbourne as hundreds of far-right wing extremists and anti-racism campaigners faced off in a screaming match and minor scuffles broke out.

Scores of police including some with riot shields and on horseback were on hand to keep the groups apart. A police boat kept watch from the water and two helicopters circled overhead.

Independent senator Fraser Anning flew down from Queensland to attend the event and Erikson thanked him for his presence.

“The leftwing media likes to hang tags on us like neo-nazis, racists and facists, they are just ordinary hard working Australians who pay their taxes,” Anning told reporters.

“Australia has had enough. I think this is the start of something bigger. The revolution will eventually start. People have had enough of these people and they have got to be sent back to where they came from.”

In August, Anning’s “final solution” speech to parliament attracted condemnation from all sides of politics.

Some rightwing protesters wore Australian and Eureka flags as capes around their necks and chanted “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi”, and “rise without fear.”

Counter-protesters shouted “nazi scum not welcome here”.

A man in a ute equipped with speakers and a megaphone drove down the Esplanade in St Kilda chanting “Sudanese are welcome, racists are not”. Rightwing protesters surrounded his vehicle, broke the speakers and ran off with the generator.

Later the two protest groups and police lines left the foreshore area and spilled out onto the road and walked towards the Luna Park.

In one heated confrontation a rightwing protester broke through police lines and tried to grab a banner from three anti-racism campaigners.

Police sprayed capsicum spray and used rubber pellets before arresting the rightwing protester.

Paramedics were helping to treat two women who were sprayed in the eyes.

The Guardian Australia saw at least six people being led away by police.

An 18-year-old man was arrested on the beach after being found with a “dangerous article” at about 12.20pm, police said.

“Victoria Police respects people’s right to protest peacefully, but will not tolerate those who break the law.”

Police superintendent Tony Silva said there had been three arrests, including one for breach of bail. He said a number of others had been briefly detained and then released, adding that he hoped the public felt reassured police had the situation under control.

One local resident, who gave her name as Janet, said the protests did not represent St Kilda. “People should just calm down,” she said.

Grandmother Kimberley Neave from Inverloch said she had come to the rightwing rally because she was upset with the direction of the country and the amount of immigration.

Earlier, Greek migrant Vas Karakassidis told the anti-racism rally that she knew what it was like to grow up feeling like you don’t belong. “This beach always welcomed everyone,” she said.

The far-right rally was condemned by the Australian human rights commissioner, Chin Tan, who said there was no place in the country for such rallies.

Cottrell and Erikson were convicted and fined by magistrates in 2017 for inciting contempt and ridicule of Muslims by making a video in which they beheaded a dummy with a toy sword in a protest against the building of the Bendigo mosque. Cottrell has appealed the conviction.

The pair claim their rally was a response to recent incidents in which youths have mugged people in the Port Phillip Bay area.

Erikson also last week confronted a group of young men of African background who were playing soccer at St Kilda, prompting police intervention.

St Kilda and nearby Caulfield, areas with high Jewish populations, have also experienced a blitz of anti-semitic vandalism.

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