Several police officers were injured in clashes with protesters at anti-blockade rallies in Sydney and Melbourne.
Australian police arrested 235 people in Melbourne and 32 in Sydney in unauthorized anti-lockdown demonstrations and several police officers were injured in clashes with protesters.
Victoria police said six officers required hospitalization during Saturday’s violent episodes. Several officers were knocked to the ground and trampled, police said and showed television images.
Officers used pepper spray after approximately 700 people managed to gather in parts of Melbourne. Some 2,000 agents made the city center practically a no-go zone, setting up checkpoints and barricades. Public transportation and carpooling in the city were suspended.
“What we saw today was a group of protesters coming together, not to protest freedoms, but simply to confront and fight the police,” Victoria Police Commander Mark Galliott told the media.
The illegal gathering comes as the city goes through its sixth shutdown since the pandemic began, with the state of Victoria reporting more than 500 cases of COVID-19 on Saturday.
Footage from one incident showed a crowd charging through a police line as skirmishes broke out along a tram route.
In Sydney, officers from the riot squad, highway patrol, detectives and general duty police were also deployed on the streets, avoiding large gatherings.
Australia has been grappling with an outbreak of the Delta variant of the coronavirus since mid-June, with Sydney and Melbourne, and the capital Canberra, on strict lockdowns for weeks. 1,882 new cases of coronavirus were reported on Saturday, most of them in Sydney.
Most of the restrictions in Victoria, New South Wales and Canberra will remain in place until at least 70 percent of people aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated, which, based on the current rate of inoculations, could be achieved by late October or early November.
A high compliance rate for public health infections has helped Australia keep the number of infections relatively low, with just under 85,000 total cases and 1,145 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The vast majority of Australians support vaccines and public health measures, but there have been sporadic and sometimes violent protests against the management of the pandemic.