Australian police arrest six people at Black Lives Matter rally for violating virus ban

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian police arrested six people on Tuesday and ordered 50 others to disperse after meeting in Sydney for a Black Lives Matter protest despite an official ban due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Police officers issue fines to protesters, after police closed a demonstration that was deemed illegal, in Sydney, Australia, on July 28, 2020. REUTERS / Loren Elliott

The march was planned to highlight the deaths of the detained Aborigines, building on the momentum of global demonstrations for racial justice and against police brutality.

Police had said the meeting was unauthorized and violated coronavirus prevention measures, a position backed by a court ruling on Monday, as Australia addresses an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Police said they arrested six people before the scheduled start of the march in a public park and ordered others to leave the area, saying the people had received enough warning to stay away.

“In the last 24 hours, we have said over and over again not to show up,” New South Wales Deputy Police Commissioner Mick Willing told reporters in Sydney. “We are in the middle of a pandemic.”

Of the six people arrested, five were fined A $ 1,000 for defying the court order banning the meeting. The sixth was fined for using offensive language.

Reuters estimated that there were about 50 people gathered on a rainy day in the city, well below the 500 people organizers expected to attend.

Australia reported its largest single-day increase on Monday in cases after an infection outbreak in the state of Victoria. Neighboring NSW, of which Sydney is the capital, is also battling various groups of viruses.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt called on people not to attend the rally, urging them to use social media platforms or organize a silent vigil outside their homes.

Australia has recorded around 15,000 cases of COVID-19 and 167 deaths, although authorities fear both will increase.

Reports by Renju Jose, Colin Packham, Jill Gralow and James Redmayne; Editing by Jane Wardell

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