Racial Unrest Strikes Australia By MIKE CORDER, Associated Press Writer
In one of Australia's worst outbursts of racial violence, thousands of drunken white youths attacked police and people they believed were of Arab descent at a Sydney beach, angered by reports that Lebanese youths had assaulted two lifeguards.
Young men of Arab descent retaliated in several Sydney suburbs, fighting with police and smashing 40 cars with sticks and bats, police said. Thirty-one people were injured and 16 were arrested in hours of violence Sunday.
The city was calm Monday, and police formed a strike force to track down the instigators, some of whom were believed to be from white supremacist groups. Police said they were also seeking an Arab man who allegedly stabbed a white man in the back.
Prime Minister John Howard condemned the violence, but said he did not believe racism was widespread in Australia.
"Attacking people on the basis of their race, their appearance, their ethnicity, is totally unacceptable and should be repudiated by all Australians irrespective of their own background and their politics," Howard said.
But he added: "I'm not going to put a general tag (of) racism on the Australian community."
Australia has long prided itself on accepting wave after wave of immigrants — from Italians and Greeks after World War II to families fleeing political strife in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. In the last census in 2001, nearly a quarter of Australia's 20 million people said they were born overseas.
However, tensions between youngsters of Arabic descent and white Australians have been rising in recent years, largely because of anti-Muslim sentiment fueled by the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States and deadly bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali that killed 88 Australians in October 2002.
About 300,000 Muslims live in Australia, the majority in large cities.
"Arab Australians have had to cope with vilification, racism, abuse and fear of a racial backlash for a number of years, but these riots will take that fear to a new level," said Roland Jabbour, chairman of the Australian Arabic Council.