Melbourne riot police in South-East Australia used pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse a violent protest by opponents of compulsory Covid vaccination for workers in the construction as most construction sites were abruptly closed in the city.
At least three police officers were injured and more than 40 people arrested, according to Shane Patton, police chief of the state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital. Some 500 police officers had been deployed. Several journalists have been assaulted.
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More than a thousand demonstrators in construction shoes and jackets have taken to the center of Australia’s second largest city, launching flares, throwing bottles and attacking police cars, chanting slogans against vaccines and containment.
For hours, opponents of compulsory vaccination on construction sites faced the police without heeding calls made by loudspeaker to leave the scene.
It was the second such protest in two days, after around 100 construction workers on Monday smashed windows in central Melbourne. In mid-September, more than 200 arrests had been made and police officers injured during violent clashes with demonstrators opposed to the confinement.
Melbourne has been placed in strict containment for seven weeks in an attempt to stem the rapid progression of the Delta variant of the coronavirus. But sources of contamination have been identified on construction sites where compliance with the rules is more lax, according to the authorities.
They decided on Tuesday to close almost all construction sites in the city for two weeks, due to non-compliance with anti-Covid rules by workers working there and after protests against new, stricter rules.
“We have been clear: if you do not follow the rules, we do not hesitate to take action,” said Tim Pallas, Minister of Industrial Relations for the State of Victoria, announcing the decision of the authorities to close the construction sites.
“We warned the (building) industry a week ago, we saw scandalous behavior on construction sites and in the streets, and therefore we are acting decisively and without hesitation,” he said.
The administrative closure of construction sites puts tens of thousands of workers on technical unemployment.
Calls to demonstrate in work clothes had been launched on social networks where anti-vaccine conspiracy theories flourish.
Protesters waving flags marked “Trump”, named after former US President Donald Trump, briefly occupied a bridge over one of the city’s main thoroughfares.
The boss of the local construction union, John Setka, strongly denounced the behavior of the most violent protesters.
“These drunken, dumb fascists unworthy of Australia are the reason construction workers will stay home unpaid for the next two weeks,” he said.
The state of Victoria has registered 603 new cases of Covid in the past 24 hours.
Australia’s two main cities, Sydney and Melbourne, are currently under lockdown. The objective is to vaccinate 80% of the population, which would allow a gradual reopening but still require at least a month in most of the places concerned.