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Police arrest 57 among thousands in Sydney's anti-lockdown protest

Protesters and police clash Saturday at Sydney Town Hall during an anti-lockdown rally.  Photo by Mick Tsikas/EPA-EFE
Protesters and police clash Saturday at Sydney Town Hall during an anti-lockdown rally.  Photo by Mick Tsikas/EPA-EFE

July 24 (UPI) -- New South Wales police arrested 57 people participating in Sydney's unauthorized protest Saturday against a COVID-19 lockdown, authorities said.

Along with the 57 arrests, police issued at least 90 penalty infringement notices established a strike force, according to a NSW police statement.

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Mal Lanyon, deputy commissioner of metropolitan field operations, said the work of the strike force, which will include at least 22 detectives, has begun.

"Our officers have already started to identify attendees and will continue for as long as required to identify and prosecute all whose who broke the law today," Lanyon said.

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Protesters shouted "freedom" while marching through the Haymarket suburb, which NSW health director Dr. Jeremy McAnulty had declared a COVID-19 hotspot moments earlier, toward the central business district, ABC News Australia reported.

Thousands of people blocked traffic on Sydney's Broadway before reaching Town Hall in the central business district. Protesters moved toward mounted police in large numbers and hurled objects at them, local media reported.

"What we saw today was 3,500 very selfish boofheads -- people that thought the law didn't apply to them," NSW Police Minister David Elliott told ABC News.

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Lanyon said in statement more than 350 police responded to the the anti-lockdown protest.

"I want to thank the more than 350 police who were part of today's response," Lanyon said. "They did not go to work to be assaulted or have projectiles thrown at them -- the actions of the individuals involved in those offenses was a disgrace."

Elliott said in the statement that the strike force "will forensically investigate all CCTV and social media footage," from the protest.

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"It will only take one person with COVID-19 to turn today's event into a super-spreader, so decent-minded Australians have every right to feel infuriated at such selfish behavior," Elliott added.

The protests came as NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard announced 163 new COVID-19 infections in the southeastern Australian state, up from 136 cases the previous day.

Anti-lockdown protests also occurred in Melbourne, including flares sparked outside the Parliament House, and in Brisbane, where thousands protested in the city's Botanic Gardens, ABC News reported. Six people were arrested in Melbourne and dozens were issued fines for failing to comply with lockdown orders to stay within 3.1 mile radius from home, but no arrests and fines were made in Brisbane.

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