Australia

‘It broke my heart’: NSW premier slams Sydney anti-lockdown protest after dozens charged

Two men will face court in the wake of an anti-lockdown protest in central Sydney, accused among other offences of striking a police horse.

The NSW premier, meanwhile, has encouraged residents to dob in anyone who posts social media footage of themselves at the protest.

Some 57 people have been charged and 90 infringement notices issued over Saturday’s protest, while a police strike force has been established to hunt down those who took part.

NSW Police on Sunday morning said officers were assaulted amid the unrest and police horses were struck and pushed.

A 33-year-old Surry Hills man was arrested late on Saturday night, as was a 36-year-old man from Edensor Park in Sydney’s southwest.

Both were charged with committing an act of cruelty upon an animal and failing to comply with public health orders, while the Edensor Park man was also charged with assaulting a police officer.

They will appear in Parramatta Local Court on Sunday.

Protesters march along Broadway during the World Wide Rally For Freedom anti-lockdown rally at Hyde Park in Sydney, Saturday, 24 July, 2021.

AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

A special strike force of detectives is analysing footage from social media, CCTV and police-worn body cameras to identify the roughly 3000 people who defied stay-at-home orders.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was disgusted and heart-broken by those who had shown “utter contempt for their fellow citizens”.

“It just broke my heart that people had such a disregard for their fellow citizens,” she said on Saturday. 

“We know that events like that can cause those super-spreading events, and please know that all of the sacrifices we’ve made over the last three or four weeks in particular have resulted in us being able to stabilise the growth in cases. 

“We don’t want a setback, and yesterday could have been a setback.”

NSW Police also denied they were caught on the hop by the protest, saying officers had been preparing for the event for a fortnight.

Police issued 510 infringement notices on Saturday in NSW, almost all of which to attendees of the protest.

A number of police officers were injured as they were attacked by protesters, who threw plastic bottles and pot plants seized from the roadside.

Despite a heavy presence of mounted and riot officers, protesters broke through a police barrier to continue down George Street but were stopped at King Street. 

“We made a very clear stance yesterday that violence won’t be tolerated,” Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon told reporters.

“We had an extensive planning session in place … what took us by surprise and disappoints me greatly is the level of violence people were prepared to use. That was unprecedented.”

Protesters are arrested by the police at Sydney Town Hall during the ‘World Wide Rally For Freedom’ anti-lockdown rally at Hyde Park in Sydney, 24 July, 2021.

Protesters are arrested by the police at Sydney Town Hall during the ‘World Wide Rally For Freedom’ anti-lockdown rally at Hyde Park in Sydney, 24 July, 2021.

AAP

NSW Police Minister David Elliott condemned the thousands of “very selfish boofheads” who marched.

“Police will be contacting people … to have to answer for themselves and their behaviour, particularly the ringleaders,” he said.

In Melbourne, an anti-lockdown protest was also brought to a violent end by police.

Acting Police Commissioner Luke Cornelius said organisers had not been co-operative and refused to consider moving the rally to a later date when it would have been safe.

“As a result, we had to roster hundreds of police to this event because of their selfish actions and blatant disregard of others,” he said.

In addition to penalty notices already issued, Victoria Police will also review evidence captured at the protest to identify as many people involved as possible.

Their investigation will include the alleged assault of a mounted officer hurt by a flying bollard.

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