Hostile group pelts police as pro-Palestine rally turns ugly

Police used pepper spray after protesters surrounded officers at a pro-Palestine rally in Melbourne.

Police used pepper spray after protesters surrounded officers at a pro-Palestine rally in Melbourne. Photo: AAP

Tensions have flared at a pro-Palestine rally with police using pepper spray to control protesters who they say turned violent, hurling bottles and signs at officers.

Around 3000 people attended the Free Palestine rally in Melbourne on Sunday, the 35th consecutive week demonstrators have hit the streets to voice their opposition to Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

Public order response team members deployed the pepper spray after protesters surrounded police on Bourke Street, having previously detained a man following a march.

It is understood demonstrators then attended a police station on Bourke Street to demand an apology for the use of pepper spray.

At least one flare was lit during the rally, while protesters flew Palestinian flags and held signs with messages including ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘Ceasefire Now’.

Victoria Police issued a statement supporting the right to protest peacefully but condemning the “hostile and disgusting behaviour” at the protest, saying “we will not tolerate the kind of vulgar behaviour our officers were confronted with today”.

“At one point officers were attempting to obtain the identity of a person who ignited what appeared to be a flare when they were confronted by a crowd of about 200 protesters,” the statement read.

“The group was extremely hostile and turned violent, throwing bottles and signs at police.”

Police then discharged pepper spray to disperse the group and one officer “was spat on during the ugly encounter” while two police vehicles were damaged.

No arrests were made but police would be reviewing footage of the confrontation to identify offenders.

Three infringement notices were issued for illegally parked vehicles, one person was fined for climbing on top of a tram stop and another for bill posting.

Greens leader Adam Bandt addressed those gathered before the march, blasting the government for not taking actions to try to put more pressure on Israel to stop its offensive.

Mr Bandt called on the government to recognise the state of Palestine, sanction Israeli officials including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, end any military trading with Israel and expel its ambassador.

“Enough of the hand-wringing tweets, enough of the words that always come with conditions attached … (they are) being ignored by an extreme war cabinet that is hell-bent on continuing this invasion,” he said.

“Actions count, there are things this government could be doing to put pressure on to stop this invasion.”

The Greens leader addressed criticism levelled by Australia’s major parties, having been accused of “inflaming tensions” in the community by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley recently said attacks on MP’s offices were “disgraceful” and encouraged by the Greens.

Mr Bandt labelled that allegation as “slander”.

“Let me say this, not for your benefit because you know this already, but for everyone who has been slandering this movement for weeks,” he told the rally.

“We all know there is no place for violence against people, against politicians, against people who work for politicians or inside their offices … what we are pushing for is peace, peace here, and peace in Gaza.”

Similar protests were held at Sydney’s Hyde Park and Brisbane’s King George Square.

Police had no issues to report from the Sydney rally and made no arrests, while Brisbane’s was also peaceful.

Hamas attacked Israel in October 2023, killing 1200 people and taking more than 200 hostages.

In response, Israel launched air strikes and a ground invasion of Gaza that, according to the local health ministry, has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, injured more than 80,000 and displaced more than 1.7 million.


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