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Sydney launches security operation fearing violence
Updated: 2005-12-17 15:24

More than 1,500 police were mobilized around Sydney on Saturday in a massive security operation to try to prevent a repeat of the racial violence that hit Australia's largest city a week ago.

A police officer checks a vehicle at a road block in Cronulla in Sydney's south December 17, 2005. Some metropolitan beaches and beaches to the north and south of Sydney will be off limits to beach goers as police launch their biggest security operation since the 2000 Olympics, with up to 1,500 police on the streets to prevent further outbreaks of racial violence, officials said. [Reuters]
Police seized a vehicle overnight, the first car to be taken under new powers given to police this week by the New South Wales state parliament.

Officers stopped the small sedan and found swords and a dagger inside. The 17-year-old driver was charged with possessing offensive weapons.

The parliament was recalled from its summer recess for an emergency session Thursday to pass laws to help police curb mob violence that erupted last Sunday at Cronulla beach in Sydney's south, where 5,000 white youths, many of them drunk, fought a series of skirmishes with police and attacked people of Arab appearance.

On Saturday, stringent police checks of every vehicle traveling toward Cronulla and other beaches in the area created massive traffic backups.

Deputy Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said the closure of 31 roads leading to beaches was necessary. "We apologize for the delays, and for the inconvenience, but this is not a normal weekend," he said.

On the beach at Cronulla, there were fewer than 100 swimmers when usually there would be several thousand, due to warnings from police to stay away because of threatened violence.

"It's a bit scary, there's no one here," said Ann Chamberlin, a local mother of teenage children.

At Maroubra beach near Bondi, a high-speed police inflatable boat bobbed in the surf offshore, ready to come ashore at the first sign of trouble.

Police said they had credible evidence that violence could again break out this weekend and warned locals to stay away from Cronulla and most of the beaches on the eastern and southern sides of the city, including the world-famous Bondi strip.

"We have intelligence that people are intending to attend those areas to conduct themselves in a riotous manner armed with various weapons _ baseball bats, sticks, poles and the like _ and it is my intention to keep those communities safe," Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Goodwin said.

State Premier Morris Iemma said police numbers would be increased further to 2,000 on Sunday to try to prevent a repeat of last weekend's trouble.

In the west coast city of Perth, Muslim leaders asked families to stay away from two beaches to avoid being the target of violence. Police watched for any violence resulting from racist text messages calling for Australians to gather at Mullaloo and Scarborough beaches.

Ameer Ali, head of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said Saturday he has asked Muslim parents not to go to the two beaches until the situation calms down.

"Why take a chance?" Ali said. "Better to keep away from these troubles ... it'll take a long time to heal the wounds."

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