NY strike costing millions

The city’s nearly 34,000 subway and bus workers stayed out despite a court order fining their union the huge sum for each day of the stoppage.

It is the first strike on the United States’ biggest transportation system in 25 years.

Judge Theodore Jones who imposed the massive fine on the unions, has ordered their leaders to appear before him on Thursday.

Judge Jones said jail was a serious possibility if they did not order the end of the stoppage.

The White House urged the parties to “resolve their differences so that the people in New York can get to where they need to go.

“We’re prohibited from intervening in transit strikes,” spokesman Scott McClellan acknowledged, but he said the federal government could offer help in mediating talks.

“We urge the parties to come together and resolve their differences,” he said.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who again joined the throngs hiking across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, said there could be no negotiations until the strike ended.

Strike shameful

Mayor Bloomberg said the transport workers were “shamefully” ignoring a state law banning such action.

More court hearings were scheduled for Wednesday. But the city streets quickly choked with cars, despite Mayor Bloomberg’s emergency order that any vehicle entering Manhattan must have at least four people in it.

More than 400 subway stations were locked up as the daily commuter army jostled to share cab rides or crowd onto Long Island Rail Road and Metro North trains, two of the rare lines not on strike.

“It’s not pleasant, but that’s life in a big city,” said Michael Padden, a federal public defender who endured a two-hour commute by regional rail and on foot to get to the courthouse in Brooklyn.

“Once in a while, something like that happens. All this luxury mustn’t be taken for granted. You have to adapt. We’ve had 9/11, the blackout, we’ve been through much worse.”

Pressure on unions

As well as the million-dollar-a-day fine, New York city officials have threatened to deduct three days of pay for each day a worker is on strike.

The move increased the pressure on the union, but labor leaders showed little sign of giving in.

In final negotiations late Monday, the Metropolitan Transportation
Authority improved its wage offer and dropped a demand to increase the retirement age from 55, but insisted that workers contribute more toward their pensions, the New York Times said.

The newspaper said the proposal would save the MTA less than 20 million dollars over the next three years.

“What they’d be saving on pensions is a pittance,” said TWU leader Roger Toussaint.

He told ABC television that the standoff could be “resolved in hours if there’s a will.”

In a separate interview with a local TV station, he said that “were it not for the pension piece, we would not be out on strike.

“All it (the MTA) needs to do is take its pension proposal off the table.”

Resourceful New Yorkers walked and used everything from bikes to skates and skateboards to make their commutes into and around Manhattan.

Still, for some not accustomed to the strenuous cold-weather workout, the trip was tough going.

“I’m extremely tired. I’m not much of a biker,” said Colleen, 25, who declined to give her last name as she made the long trip from Brooklyn to her job at a children’s book association in Manhattan for a second time.

“I actually learned to bike pretty much in the last couple of days, so I’ve fallen off my bike I don’t know how many times!” she said.

Economic impact

With city authorities fearing New York will lose US$1.6 billion in
Christmas business if the strike lasts one week, the economic impact could be huge.

“It couldn’t have happened at a worse time, given the level of retail activity before Christmas,” Art Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies, a global investment bank and securities firm said.

Estimates on how much the city stands to lose as a result of the strike varied.

Mr Hogan put the figure at US$100 million a day while New York City comptroller William Thompson Jr projected around US$400 million a day in losses.

Mr Thompson said if the strike continued through next week, he expected the city to lose less, as it would be a vacation period for many.

Michael Burke, a manager at Balthazar restaurant in Soho, said the biggest problem was ensuring employees made it to work.

“A lot of employees, especially kitchen employees, are from the Bronx and Queens, so we use a shuttle van all day long,” Burke said. “We have to be creative.”

He said he had noticed a 20-percent drop in business and hoped the strike would end soon as the restaurant could not recover the lost money.

Retail stores were also feeling the pinch as Christmas week for many accounts for 20 percent of holiday sales.

Many companies, however, had braced for the strike by leasing buses to drive employees to work, organizing car pools or encouraging people to work out of their homes. Some were also allowing employees to head home early.

The New York stock exchange registered only a slight drop as the strike was taking place amid a slow holiday period.

German hostage in Iraq freed

He said Ms Osthoff, 43, was at the German embassy in Baghdad and that her drver who was kidnapped with her was also expected to be released.

“The kidnappers have announced that they would also release her driver. We are very happy about this outcome,” the minister said.

“After all the weeks of waiting and uncertainty we share the joy of her family and friends whole-heartedly.”

The archaeologist’s brother Robert Osthoff earlier told German n-tv television station: “My sister is free”.

Mr Osthoff said that ironically his mother and sister Anja, who had launched an emotional plea for the hostage’s release, “are not available today” and had therefore not yet been told the news.

Converted to Islam

Susanne Osthoff, 43, a convert to Islam who has lived in Iraq for 10 years, was seized with her driver on November 25 in the Nineveh region of northwest Iraq.

Mr Steinmeier expressed his gratitude to those who had worked for her release, including the German embassy in Baghdad and a crisis team in the foreign ministry, and thanked the public for their solidarity with the hostage.

Ms Osthoff hails from the southern German state of Bavaria and the mayor of her hometown of Glonn, Martin Esterl, said that the inhabitants were overjoyed to hear of her release.

“It is a great relief for all of us. We will be delighted to welcome her back in person, but this will of course take some time because first she will need a lot of rest.”

The president of Germany’s Central Council of Muslims, Nadeem Elyas, also welcomed Osthoff’s safe release.

“May God protect our country, the German people and all of the world from such criminal acts in future,” he said.

Ms Osthoff was the first German national to be kidnapped in Iraq and her plight posed the first serious crisis for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who took office in late November.

Mrs Merkel had appealed to the kidnappers to release her, but said Berlin would not be blackmailed.

Her predecessor, former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, also urged the kidnappers to free her, pointing out that Ms Osthoff had worked hard to help Iraqis.

“I appeal to you to act humanely and show mercy. She has made Iraq her home,” he said.

Mr Schroeder’s government refused to send troops to Iraq, but Germany has been helping to train Iraqi policemen, though not on German soil.

According to German press reports, the kidnappers set an ultimatum of a few days for Germany to stop training Iraqi police officers as the price for Ms Osthoff’s release shortly after she was seized.

Since she disappeared, however, the only word from the kidnappers had been a video released to a German TV station purportedly showing her and her driver blindfolded and surrounded by armed men.

Public support

As the hostage saga continued, public support in Germany for Ms Osthoff’s plight grew.

About 300 Germans had held a candle light vigil for the hostage in central Berlin on Wednesday following a public appeal for support from her sister, who told national television: “Do not forget her, support her”.

The plea came as ZDF public television reported that the German government managed to establish contact with “intermediaries” who would negotiate with Ms Osthoff’s kidnappers.

There was no official confirmation of the report, but the German weekly magazine Focus reported in an advance extract of its Monday edition that the government believed she was still alive.

Citing sources in the foreign ministry crisis unit, Focus said she was seized by a group calling itself the Army of the Mujahedin, which initially thought she was a spy working for a Western government, but later realised she was not.

Ms Osthoff was married to an Arab and speaks fluent Arabic, according to her family.

They said repeatedly that she had tried to help Iraqis in need and also to preserve their country’s heritage.

“My sister has a very big heart. She did not want to get involved politically. She only wanted to help,” Robert Osthoff said.

Travel warnings for Sydney

The New South Wales tourism industry has been urged to “pull together” in response to the warnings.

The British warning mentions recent “sporadic outbreaks of racially motivated violence in Cronulla, Maroubra, Brighton-le-Sands” and “areas of south-west Sydney”.

Britons are advised to “monitor the situation and exercise caution”.

NSW Tourism Council president Ron Rosalky said it is likely there may be some financial losses incurred as a result of the warnings.

But he urged the industry to work together and realise it’s not the end of the world.

New South Wales Tourism Minister Sandra Nori said she is not surprised or alarmed by international travel warnings about race violence in Sydney.

“I can’t speak for those governments but it’s not unusual for governments to issue travel warnings for all sorts of situations,” Ms Nori said.

“My understanding is these are not at the higher end (of warnings) – they are not saying don’t travel to Australia or Sydney … but keep away from trouble spots.

“You have got to see these travel warnings in context and look at all the overwhelming information about Sydney and what a great, positive place it is, that will be what sways (travellers).”

Ms Nori said the government is working on a tourism package promoting Sydney, due to be released shortly.

State opposition tourism spokeswoman Katrina Hodgkinson said the NSW government should be doing more to restore Sydney’s reputation as a tourist-friendly destination.

“For travel warnings to be issued sends a terrible message to visitors,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

The head of a major US tourism company meanwhile said the racial violence has not scared off American travellers to Australia over the holiday period.

Ian Swain, of Swain Tours, said he has not had a single cancellation.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma said tourist bookings to Sydney have remained steady.

Sydney “is a great city to come to, it is a great city to live in, and the message over summer will be that those 800 police will be out in force,” he said.

Iran outburst slammed

“The European Council condemns unreservedly President Ahmadinejad’s call for the eradication of Israel and his denial of the Holocaust,” the council said during a summit in Brussels.

“The comments are wholly unacceptable and have no place in a civilised political debate,” the European Council said.

President Ahmadinejad unleashed a wave of condemnation from world leaders this week after he described the Holocaust as a myth and called for the state of Israel to be moved far from the Middle East.

European leaders also warned in a draft statement that Mr Ahmadinejad’s statement regarding the Holocaust could be grounds for sanctions against Iran.

The EU leaders urged Iran to “join the international consensus on the need of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” and “support the search for peace between Israel and its neighbors and to end the support for groups which advocate or engage in acts of terrorism”.

Nuclear warning

Amid a long-running standoff with Tehran over its nuclear program, EU leaders also warned that time was running out for a diplomatic solution.

“The European Council is gravely concerned at Iran’s failure to build confidence that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful,” EU leaders said at the summit, which focused primarily on the bloc’s budget.

The statement comes ahead of a EU-Iran meeting next Wednesday in Vienna, but European and Western diplomats say there is little hope of progress in getting Tehran to abandon nuclear fuel work that raises concerns over nuclear weapons.

‘Destructive’ response

In an escalation of tensions, Iran’s defence minister on Thursday warned that any Israeli attack against it would provoke a “destructive” response.

Iran’s defences are strong enough to thwart any strike, state-run TV quoted the minister, General Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, as saying.

But were Israel to try, “the answer of the Iranian armed forces to any attack would be quick, sharp and destructive,” Mr Najjar added.

Israeli officials and politicians have openly discussed the possibility of an attack on Iran, either alone or with other countries, aimed at crippling Iran’s nuclear development capabilities.

Israel, which is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, together with the United States accuses Iran of working to build an atomic bomb, but Tehran denies having such plans.

Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, tried to temper talk of a pre-emptive strike, telling The Associated Press that “Israel has no intention of attacking Iran, but Israel will know how to defend itself if anyone threatens its existence.”

Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi came to his president’s defence, saying Mr Ahmadinejad’s comments on Israel and the authenticity of the Holocaust had been misunderstood.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final word on all matters, has also stood by his president.

Race to avoid toxic spill

The toxic spill, caused by an explosion at a chemicals factory in China on November 13, is snaking its way down the Amur river.

Officials said the sandbag dam, one of two built hastily to prevent the possible flow of benzene-contaminated water from the Amur river into Khabarovsk, a city of 600,000 in Russia’s Far East region, would be completed during the night before the poison reached the city.

Two Russian military Mi-26 helicopters were flying non-stop to ferry sandbags to the site of the dam on the Kazakevich channel, one of many small branches of the Amur river west of Khabarovsk, to complete the last few meters of the 300-meter levy across the waterway.

A spokesman for the Russian emergency situations ministry, quoted by Interfax, said there were around 3,000 Chinese labourers, using 200 heavy construction trucks, working on the project in cooperation with the Russians.

Local officials are confident the dam will be completed before the first traces of
the spill could reach Khabarovsk.

Analyses of the water in the Amur river west of the city were being taken
Constantly.

According to officials sixty three tests had been conducted at various points on the river since Monday and no traces of toxic benzene had yet been detected.

The Amur river, which runs along the Russia-Chinese border before veering
exclusively into Russian territory, splits into numerous smaller branches above
Khabarovsk.

Experts say the effect on the city will depend on which of these channels it enters and how strongly it is concentrated.

Benzene is a known carcinogen used as an industrial solvent and as a component of gasoline.

More than 100 tons of the chemical were dumped into the Songhua river, a Chinese tributary of the Amur, following the blast at the plant outside Harbin.

While most Russian experts forecast negligible effects from the spill on the population of Khabarovsk, nearly all have described it as a major ecological disaster which will have consequences on the environment along the Songhua and Amur rivers for years to come.

In the weeks that it has floated down the river, the spill has stretched in length to more than 190 kilometres and is expected to take a week for it to pass through Khabarovsk, experts said.

More than a month of advance warning however has allowed local residents and
authorities in Russia to preposition huge stocks of potable water in the event
that the city has to shut down public water treatment facilities.

Intelligent design school ban

The closely watched case was a key battle in an ideological war waged by Christian activists against Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Despite claims it is a religious theory not rooted in fact, advocates had hoped to introduce intelligent design into schools across the US District Court Judge John Jones lashed out at the “breathtaking inanity” of the governing school board in the town of Dover which backed the concept that nature is so complex it must be the work of a superior being.

“Our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom,” he said.

The 139-page ruling found that teaching intelligent design violated the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which bars a state-mandated religion.

ID not science

“In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not,” he said.

The court found that the concept was an offshoot of creationism, which the Supreme Court has already ruled cannot be forced into schools.

Judge Jones said the board had thrust an “untestable alternative hypothesis” to evolution into the classroom.

“It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID policy.”

Voters ousted eight members of the schoolboard in November, prompting famed television evangelist Pat Robertson to warn they had rejected God.

“If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God,” Robertson said on his 700 Club show.

Opponents of intelligent design described the ruling as “wonderful.”

“This is a very important decision, Judge Jones has reaffirmed that in this country, public servants shall not use their public office to impose their religious views on others,” said Stephen Harvey of law firm Pepper Hamilton.

Plantiff Tammy Kitzmiller, a parent who brought the case, said “intelligent design is not science. Intelligent design is about religion.”

But supporters of the theory vowed to fight on. “Anyone who thinks a court ruling is going to kill off interest in intelligent design is living in another world,” said John West, of the Discovery Institute think tank, which advocates intelligent design.

Different theories

White House spokesman Scott McClellan did not criticise the ruling, but said President George W Bush, who draws strong backing from Christian conservatives, believed such decisions were up to school districts.

“The president has also said that he believes students ought to be exposed to different theories and ideas so that they can fully understand what the debate is about.”

The ruling was the latest in a flurry of court judgments on the role of religion in US society, which has seen Supreme Court justices rule on the proper use of the Ten Commandments on state property.

The case has drawn comparisons to the Scopes trial of 1925, in which a biology teacher was convicted of violating Tennessee law by teaching evolution, a precedent-setting case on the role of the Bible in US public life.

In an October 2004 vote, the Dover School Board required teachers to read pupils a statement stating that Darwin’s “theory of evolution” was not a “fact” and contained “gaps.”

Students were also to be informed about an intelligent design textbook called “Of Pandas and People.”

Judge Jones accurately predicted the reaction of intelligent design advocates, in this politically sensitive case.

“Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred.”

Discovery’s West hit back: “this is an activist judge who has delusions of grandeur.”

Iraqi poll hailed a success

Millions of ballot papers were still being counted after after the poll, the first election of a full-term government since Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003.

The UN Security Council on Friday joined UN chief Kofi Annan in praising the legislative election and called for the rapid formation of a permanent government in Baghdad.

In stark contrast to a January poll, the election was marked by minimal violence and high voter-turnout, including in Sunni Arab areas that have previously boycotted the US-led political transition to sovereignty.

“For Iraq it is very important, as it will determine whether the country will slide further into civil war or perhaps can still be pulled back from the abyss,” said Joost Hiltermann from the International Crisis Group.

Amid a massive security operation, the number of voters appeared to have surpassed turnout in the October referendum and the January 30 elections.

An electoral official said the number of ballots was expected to be between 10 and 11 million, which could put turnout at just over 70 percent.

International monitors said the election had “generally” met international standards despite some procedural issues and praised the organisers for meeting a “difficult challenge.”

Head of the electoral commission, Ezzeddin Mohammadi, said the organisation had received 178 complaints, which would be examined by electoral officials and independent lawyers.

Abroad, 320,000 expatriate Iraqis voted in the election.

Although final results are not expected for at least two weeks, a Western diplomat said a preliminary estimate could be available in four to five days.

In rough estimates, Shi’ite parties seemed to have scored well in strongholds in the south, the main Kurdish Alliance was likely strong in the north, while turnout was high in Sunni regions.

In the western al-Anbar region, a bastion of support for the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency, officials estimated turnout at 85-95 percent in the flashpoint town of Fallujah.

Some polling stations even ran out of ballot papers, so strong was the turnout. The electoral commission also forecast turnout at 75-80 percent in the hotspot of Ramadi.

International reaction

Despite the huge challenge ahead of creating a viable government strong enough to crush violence, global leaders hailed the vote.

US President George W. Bush said it was a “major step forward” in having “a democratic Iraq, a country able to sustain itself and defend itself”.

Newspapers across the Arab world hailed Sunni Arab participation as a “turning point” that should grant legitimacy to a new government.

The Security Council on Friday hailed the landmark election and welcomed the high Sunni turnout.

Council members “are particularly encouraged that political parties representing all of Iraq’s communities participated in the election and by reports suggesting high voter turnout across Iraq,” said a statement read by Britain’s UN envoy Emyr Jones Parry.

It added that the 15-member council looked forward to “the rapid formation of a representative government” and stressed “the importance of inclusiveness, dialogue and national unity as Iraq’s political development moves forward.”

Earlier, UN chief Kofi Annan said “the participation by all communities in this historic election is another milestone in Iraq’s progress toward a democratic future and lays the foundation for national reconciliation.”

“Whatever the results of the election, there is a now an opportunity for a political process that offers all Iraqis the chance to play a part in building a peaceful, democratic, unified and prosperous Iraq,” the UN chief noted.

The Security Council also called for increased international assistance to Iraq.

Zarqawi ‘captured’

But in an embarrassing revelation for efforts to quash the insurgency, a junior Iraqi minister admitted that police had captured Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the presumed al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, but released him.

“He was arrested more than one year ago in Fallujah by Iraqi police,” deputy interior minister Hussain Kamal told news agency AFP. “It seems they did not recognise him, that’s why they released him.”

Zarqawi, who has a US$25-million bounty on his head, is the alleged mastermind of numerous bombings, hostage murders and armed attacks in Iraq.

The Pentagon said it could not confirm the capture.

Five US Army Rangers sentenced

Punishments will vary from 30 days to six months in confinement, with two of the men to receive bad conduct discharges.

The five were alleged to have mistreated three Iraqi detainees on September 7 as they were waiting to be moved to a prison facility.

On November 5, the US military said the five Rangers, from the 75th Ranger Regiment based at Fort Benning in Georgia, were accused of punching and kicking the Iraqi detainees and hitting them with a broomstick.

The US military has been under a spotlight over detainee abuses since April 2004 when photos came to light of degrading treatment of Iraqi prisoners held at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison.

Since the war began in Iraq in March 2003, the Pentagon has investigated more than 400 cases of detainee mistreatment involving at least 230 soldiers, according to a report by the USA Today news service.

In a bid to stamp out further instances of abuse, the US House of Representatives has passed final legislation banning the torture of detainees.

Amid allegations of secret CIA-run prisons abroad, harsh interrogation of prisoners at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, on top of the Abu Ghraib scandal, Republican Senator John Cain has pushed for inclusion of the torture ban.

US President George W Bush held out against the move for months, but finally backed down after winning important concessions.

Key among the concessions were the curbing of Guantanamo Bay inmates’ ability to challenge their detention in federal court, and a provision to allow information gleaned by coercion to be used in Guantanamo military commissions.

In an interview with America’s ABC News Nightline programme, US Vice President Dick Cheney reluctantly welcomed the bill, but criticised what he described as a diminishing commitment by some to ensure American security is protected.

“One of the things I’m concerned about is that as we get farther and farther away from 9/11, and there have been no further attacks against the United Staters, there seems to be less and less concern about doing what’s necessary in order to defend the country,” Mr Cheney said.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has announced that charges against two Guantanamo detainees, a Saudi and an Algerian, have been referred to a US military commission.

Jabran Said Bin al Qahtani, of Saudi Arabia, and Algerian Sufyian Barhoumi, have been referred as non-capital cases to a commission comprised of six military officers and two alternate panel members.

Navy captain Daniel O’Toole, an officer with 21 years military experience, will preside over the proceedings.

Qahtani and Barhoumi have both been accused of conspiring to attack civilians and of involvement with the al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan.

The US military has alleged that the pair helped make bombs destined to be used against US forces and other targets when they were captured in Pakistan in early 2002.

A total of nine Guantanamo Bay detainees, including Australian David Hicks, have so far been charged with terrorist activities.

Their trials are expected to begin in the near future, however, Hicks has recently been successful in applying for British citizenship in a bid to challenge his detention.

That effort, though, may be thwarted as the British Home Office considers an appeal.

Hamas victorious in WBank poll

The win means Hamas will be able to control large city councils.

The poll was a key test of strength ahead of January parliamentary elections, however official results have yet to be declared.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told AFP Hamas snatched the victory in Nablus, Jenin and Al-Bireh, while Fatah and a coalition of independent candidates won a majority in Ramallah in what was the fourth and final round of municipal elections across the West Bank.

The result in Nablus, one of the West Bank’s biggest cities, is regarded as significant indication of Hamas’ growing strength.

Nablus election commission head Azmi al-Tanjir announced that Hamas won 73 per cent of the vote and 11 of the 13 seats on the city council.

Fatah, the party of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, won just 13 per cent, taking the other two seats.

Fatah has traditionally controlled the city, but this was the first election there since 1976.

Other officials said that Hamas won about the same number of council seats as Fatah in the town of Jenin, while Fatah retained control of the city of Ramallah, where the main government and parliamentary offices are located.

Official results for the election are expected to be published in a few days.

Palestinians in Nablus celebrated in the streets after hearing the results, chanting “God is great”, while drivers waved the green flag of Hamas and honked their horns.

Hamas’ power has risen since a Palestinian uprising and since Israel completed its Gaza pullout in September.

Israel fears the group could make strong gains in a parliamentary vote on January 25, when it will challenge Fatah in a national election for the first time.

Hamas’ influence among Palestinians has also grown in the wake of what many believe to be corruption within the leading Fatah party, where a rift between its younger and older members appears to be widening.

Hamas is avowedly anti-Israel, and has spearheaded a campaign of suicide bombing since the start of the uprising in 2000.

It could undermine Mr Abbas’ peace efforts with Israel if it gains clout in parliament.

Fatah had outstripped Hamas in a previous round of municipal elections in September, gaining control of 51 out of 104 West Bank town councils.

But Hamas had made a strong showing in the first two rounds of municipal ballots in the West Bank and Gaza.

Abbas has been scrambling to heal a split in Fatah between its older and younger loyalists.

The rift intensified on Thursday after young dissidents announced they were forming a new party that would run in the parliamentary election.

Simmering unrest in Sydney

Armed with new powers granted by an emergency session of the New South
Wales state parliament, police set up check points on a number of main roads in Sydney’s troubled southern suburbs.

A wave of arrests followed several incidents, including a Molotov
cocktail thrown at police, an elderly man attacked with a crowbar and an
officer injured in a brawl, according to Assistant Commissioner Dave Owens.

Shortly before 10.30pm, police were also called to a fast food outlet at Parramatta where 23 car loads of men in a car park were threatening patrons with baseball bats.

The Sydney arrests were made by a special task force set up after a mob of whites attacked people of Arab appearance at south Sydney’s Cronulla beach on Sunday, sparking days of retaliatory attacks.

Police used new powers granted by an emergency session of the New South
Wales parliament, after lawmakers were recalled from their summer
recess.

The legislation gives police powers to “lock down” suburbs, close pubs,
enforce alcohol bans and confiscate cars.

The overnight display of force came ahead of an expected major clampdown this weekend, when police will treble their numbers to up to 1,500 officers at troubled beaches and suburbs.

Reaction

Prime Minister John Howard, writing in Australia’s ‘Daily Telegraph’, said the violence was a result of people who had “no regard for the law” and those who had “no respect for their fellow Australians”.

“It is clear the best way to deal with the challenge is for everyone to calm down,” wrote Mr Howard, who has dismissed suggestions that Australia is a
racist society.

Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley claimed Australia was not a racist country but racist elements exist,.

He said he hoped young Sydney men would resist peer pressure and not become involved in any further rioting this weekend.