Tension over immigration and the integration of Muslims has come to the fore in Australia this weekend as rival groups demonstrated.
The most heated exchanges came on Saturday as hundreds of anti-Islamist protesters held a rally in Melbourne.
The group Reclaim Australia, which organised protests in around a dozen cities, argues the country’s way of life is under threat and that Muslim migrants should integrate better. It denies being racist.
To all Reclaimers—please support your rallies across the country. Remember we stand in peace for the right to… http://t.co/TVL88Az9AV— Reclaim Rallies (@Reclaim_Aus) July 19, 2015
The United Patriots Front, also present in Melbourne, opposes what it calls “left wing treason and the spread of Islamism”.
The anti-Islamists were confronted by the Coalition against Racism and Fascism which describes Reclaim Australia as a “far-right fascist group”, the counter-demonstrators denouncing “Islamophobia”.
Clashes followed as police used pepper spray to keep the rival demonstrators apart. At least four people were arrested.
One arrest was reported at a similar rally in Adelaide. On Sunday five people were held in Sydney.
Fears of Australian Muslims becoming radicalised have swelled Reclaim Australia’s ranks.
At Mackay in Australia’s north-east, government MP George Christensen addressed a rally in support of Reclaim Australia, telling the 200-strong crowd in a speech that they had a right to protest against “the dangers of radical Islam and the culture of appeasement that allows radical extremism to fester”.
Reclaim Australia’s supporters include people from immigrant backgrounds but critics allege that violent far-right groups are also among the protesters.