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Police presence deters Sydney's anti-COVID-19 lockdown protest

New South Wales police patrol Hyde Park Saturday in anticipation of an anti-lockdown rally in Sydney, which was averted. Photo by Mick Tsikas/EPA-EFE
New South Wales police patrol Hyde Park Saturday in anticipation of an anti-lockdown rally in Sydney, which was averted. Photo by Mick Tsikas/EPA-EFE

July 31 (UPI) -- Police deterred Saturday's protest against the COVID-19 lockdown in Sydney after last week's protest turned violent.

More than 1,300 police were involved in a high-visibility operation across Sydney, New South Wales Police said in a statement.

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The police were there to avoid a repeat of last week's protest where New South Wales police arrested 57 people. The unauthorized protest against COVID-19 restrictions sparked brawls, according to ABC News Australia.

Along with police presence, authorities issued a prohibition notice to taxi, rideshare and passenger services on transporting passengers to the central business district from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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The notice followed last week's anti-lockdown protest resulting in thousands of people blocking traffic on Sydney's Broadway before reaching Town Hall in the CBD, where protesters hurled items at mounted police, local media reported.

Eight people were arrested during the high-visibility police operation, and more than 250 Penalty Infringement Notices were issued for breaching public health orders, NSW police statement said.

"The vast majority of infringement notices were issued to individuals for breaching the stay-at-home orders by traveling outside their government areas," Metropolitan Operations Commander, Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon said in the NSW police statement. "Officers from across the Traffic and Highway Patrol and Police Transport Commands formed a defined barrier around the city, to monitor and prevent persons intent on traveling to the city to protest."

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A strike force with 22 detectives to apprehend people who broke the law was established after last week's protest, NSW police announced last week.

NSW Shadow Police Minister Walt Secord told Sky News the high-visibility police operation was an "overwhelming success."

"Those far-right conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers crawled back under the rocks that they live under," he said. "It was an overwhelming success, and I want to thank police officers who showed up today."

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Academic Kas Ross, who has done research on the growing far-right movement, told The Sydney Morning Herald that even though police averted the protest Saturday, the movement may continue to grow amid the lockdown.

Ross compared the movement in Sydney to the movement in Melbourne that has attracted QAnon conspiracy theorists, libertarians, and Trump supporters, many of whom never attended rallies in the past. He said it was at a similar stage of growth.

"As long as you have the lockdowns going on and people in some suburbs find they can't leave the house without being questioned by police, while they are seeing pictures of people lying on the beach at Bondi...some will protest," Ross said.

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