A protest against the controversial film Innocence Of Muslims turned violent today when members of Sydney’s Muslim community marched on the United States consulate in Martin Place.
Starting at Sydney’s Town Hall, the protesters then moved to the US consulate in Martin Place where they encountered hundreds of police who were deployed to provide extra security.
Carrying placards and denouncing the film as a blasphemous insult to Islam, the protesters then marched to Hyde Park where they were encircled by the police. There were violent outbursts where a small number of protesters threw bottles of water and other objects at police who then used pepper spray to subdue the group.
The protesters attempted to move further into Sydney’s central business district but were thwarted by a police blockade in Market Street. Another clash broke out which resulted in one police officer receiving a cut to his head. He was removed from the scene by his colleagues and treated for his injuries.
The protesters then returned to Hyde Park where they held a prayer session. Afterwards, Muslim spokespeople urged the crowd to remain calm and “be guided by love for Allah”.
Despite the calls for calm and restraint, there were many placards being carried by protesters which read, “Behead those who insult the Prophet” and, “Obama Obama we love Osama.”
However, New South Wales Police Minister Mike Gallagher acknowledged that information received by police indicated that the protest was to be largely peaceful, but was marred by elements in the group that “were there for confrontation.”
Minister Gallagher said that there was a protest organised for the following day, Sunday, and that police were unaware of a rally happening today.
“Today wasn’t a lawful protest,” Minister Gallagher said, “and there may well be that some people take it upon themselves to again turn up on Sunday in Martin Place or any other part of the city, then be rest assured the police planning is now under way tactically in relation to that.”
At about 5PM today, the protesters gathered in Hyde Park were prepared to leave peacefully, but were ordered by police to “disperse in an orderly fashion”.
This led to another clash near the entrance to St. James Station, and protesters then fled through Hyde Park towards Darlinghurst.
Pursued by the Riot and Public Order Squad and police on horseback, the protesters dispersed through various back streets through Darlinghurst.
Speaking to the press after the protesters had left Hyde Park, NSW Police Superintendent Mark Walton praised police action throughout the day.
“I think we have actually acted very professionally and responded very well to what was a completely unannounced and unorganised protest,” Supt. Walton said. “There was no advice given to police by this group that they intended to protest and, as a result, in a very short amount of time we had a significant amount of police.”
Six police officers were injured, and eight protesters were arrested for various offences.