Riot police on Melbourne streets to prevent third day of protests

Police have turned out in force outside the CFMEU office in Melbourne on Wednesday to prevent a third day of protests in the city.

© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Hundreds of police, including officers from the riot squad, lined city streets, vastly outnumbering the handful of protesters who have tried to demonstrate so far.

Despite callouts on social media channels for a third day of protests, only a small number of people have been seen outside the CFMEU headquarters in the CBD. There had been five reported arrests as of 11am AEST.

Related: What do we know about the protests in Melbourne, and how did the numbers grow?

Some 62 people were arrested on Tuesday, with three police officers injured and a journalist attacked as between 1,000 and 2,000 people protested in Melbourne’s CBD.

After gathering at the CFMEU in the morning, protestors shut down traffic on the West Gate Freeway, lighting flares and chanting “fuck Dan Andrews” and “fuck the jab” before being met with rubber pellets and pepper spray by riot police.

© Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Hundreds of police have been deployed to Melbourne city streets to prevent a third day of protests.

On Wednesday, the Victorian premier Daniel Andrews condemned the “ugly scenes”, warning Victoria police would “take action” against protestors who did the wrong thing.

Many of the protestors were wearing hi-vis, but it was not clear how many were CFMEU members and how many were linked to ‘Freedom Day’ protests organised on Saturday.

“I think there were some people there who you would say were from the building industry. There were others who were not from the building industry,” Andrews said.

“What we saw yesterday is an insult…to the vast, vast majority of tradies or people in the building industry who are not about wrecking, they’re about building.

“They did not reflect and should not be seen to reflect an entire industry. They’re not there to protest, they’re there for a fight.”

Andrews said further announcements on mandatory vaccinations in workplaces would be made later today, but the requirement for construction workers to receive a vaccine was justified.

“Today there are more coronavirus cases in construction than there are in aged care,” he said.

“There are more cases of coronavirus in the construction sector than there are patients with coronavirus in hospitals across the whole hospital system.”

There have been 350 Covid-19 cases in the construction sector – which employs some 320,000 workers – in the past two months, across 150 different worksites.

The police minister Lisa Neville said Victoria Police would deploy “whatever tactics” they needed to in response to a third protest planned for later this morning.

“If you’re thinking about coming into the city today to cause violence and harm, just know that Victoria Police will deploy whatever tactics they need to in order to ensure that you are held accountable,” she said.

“They have my full support in deploying whatever tactics they need to ensure these thugs, these violent thugs, are unable to cause further harm to our city and to our community.”

The Victorian police commissioner Shane Patton said Melbourne had seen “significant unrest” over the past few days, and protestors wouldn’t be seeing any “cat and mouse” games if they decided to come to the city on Wednesday.

More than 500 police are expected to be deployed across the city.

“I certainly understand that people are fatigued, they’re tired, they have got grievances and they’re frustrated, but now is not the time for protest,” Patton said.

“We will do everything we can to stop the gatherings in compliance with the chief health officer guidelines,” he said.

“I would implore, I plead, I’d ask, any other word that I can use, to say to people who are contemplating coming in here today to protest – do not do so. You’re not going to be welcomed with open arms, I can assure you of that.

“We have significant tactics in place, we will be agile in our response, we will be very swift in our response and conduct as we have seen yesterday and the previous day will not be tolerated.”

Patton said a “range of crowd control equipment” used at protests earlier in the week were ready to be deployed if necessary.

Yesterday, officers used pepper balls, foam baton rounds, smoke bombs and stinger grenades which deploy rubber pellets to shut down protestors.

Patton said he “wasn’t clear” whether right-wing extremists were present in the crowd on Tuesday, but was “aware” there was representation from neo-nazi groups in recent protests.

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