Australia launches anti-racism program

Tue Jan 27, 2009 9:42pm EST
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By Michael Perry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia launched a new anti-racism campaign on Wednesday, two days after national Australia Day celebrations were marred by drunken, racist violence on two Sydney beaches.

Drunken youths, draped in Australian flags and wearing Australian flag tattoos, clashed with police at Manly Beach after harassing Asian beachgoers on January 26.

Some youths drew Australian maps on their bellies and chanted "if you're Australian clap your hands," "if you're white, clap your hands."

Another group clashed with police at Cronulla, site of race riots in 2005, after predominately Anglo-Saxon residents attacked anyone of Middle Eastern appearance, believing they were Muslims intent on taking over the beach.

Authorities and media on Wednesday warned that Australia Day, which celebrates the beginning of white settlement in Australia in 1788, was being hijacked by drunken louts.

"The flag is the symbol of our nation, it's not an excuse to get drunk and do loutish behavior," Don Rowe, head of the Returned and Services League of Australia which represents soldiers, told local media on Wednesday.

"People have fought and died under that flag."

Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs, Laurie Ferguson, launched the "Diverse Australia Program" on Wednesday, saying it would support communities to tackle cultural, racial and religious intolerance.   Continued...