Violence has erupted at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance after a tense stand-off between protesters and police, with Victorian veterans dubbing the ‘occupation of the sacred site “disgraceful and disrespectful”.
Several hundred demonstrators returned to the city on Wednesday morning despite Melbourne’s stay-at-home orders and a warning from authorities.
What started as a protest against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for the construction sector and a closure of building site tea rooms has since turned into wider unrest.
Chanting “every day” from the shrine, hundreds of mostly men without masks, some still wearing high-visibility clothing like in days earlier, marched through the city to the memorial.
Heavily armed police surrounded the shrine, with officers slowly moving in on the mob making arrests.
The stand-off lasted for more than three hours as police tried to negotiate with protesters to peacefully exit via St Kilda Road.
By 4:30pm, some of the mob started to disperse but dozens remained behind and became rowdy before police fired what appeared to be rubber bullets.
Flares were thrown in retaliation as the riot squad took control of the site and cleared the crowd.
One man told a live stream he walked to the shrine because “those people died for us, and now they want to take away our freedom”.
But RSL Victoria has condemned protesters for relocating to the shrine, saying it is sacred to all people who have served in the armed forces.
“If any individuals or groups choose to express their political views, positions or ideological theories in the grounds of the shrine at any time, they are completely disrespecting the sanctity of this time-honoured space,” the RSL said.
“Those men and women of the ADF who have lost their lives, and all Victorian veterans.”
Shrine of Remembrance chair Stephen Bowater called it “disgraceful”.
Victoria Police has been granted temporary restricted airspace over Melbourne CBD by Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority, in the interest of public safety.
It has grounded all aircraft, including news choppers.
Police are also permitted to use crowd control force against anyone trying to repeat the seven-hour “cat and mouse” game seen on Tuesday, when up to 2000 protesters led police across the city and shut down the West Gate Bridge.
About 500 officers were used on Tuesday, arresting 62 people, some for assaulting police, but most for breaching public health orders.
Deputy Premier James Merlino refused to call those in the city protesters, instead describing the scenes as “a mob acting criminally” who were putting the Victorian public at risk.
The state government has shut down the construction industry for two weeks in metropolitan Melbourne, City of Ballarat, City of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire.
The protests began last week when construction workers were told they could not have breaks in tea rooms because of the risk of spreading coronavirus.
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine was made mandatory for the industry, prompting another protest in front of the CFMEU office on Monday.
Authorities say while there are construction workers in the crowds, there have been other groups including anti-lockdown activists dressed in high-visibility clothing.
Victoria recorded 628 new coronavirus cases and three more deaths on Wednesday, the highest daily tally in the current outbreak.
The regional city of Ballarat will also emerge from a seven-day lockdown at midnight on Wednesday, but strict rules remain, including masks outdoors and indoors and a ban on home visits.Internet Explorer Channel Network