'Ugly scenes' at Australia protests

SYDNEY - Anti-racism protesters and nationalists clashed in Australia's second largest city Melbourne on Saturday, with police using capsicum spray to subdue demonstrators.

At least four people were arrested after rival rallies held by Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front and several groups against racism and Islamophobia attracted hundreds of people.

Victoria state Deputy Premier James Merlino said the clashes near state parliament, which included masked protesters who tried to break through a police line, were unpleasant.

"People don't like seeing ugly scenes like they're seeing today," he said.

"The message to all Victorians is that the spreading of hatred and the spreading of bigotry is not tolerated."

"Our (cultural) diversity is one of our state's greatest strengths ... it's up to all of us to protect our diversity, celebrate it, send a message to those very small number of people that the spreading of hatred, the spreading of bigotry, is simply not tolerated," he added.

Police assistant commissioner Stephen Leane said while only a small number of protesters were intent on violence, the use of capsicum spray was justified.

"(Police) were at significant threat of having their lines over run and it was a tool we had to use at the time," he said.

"I think the message of the day from either side has been lost and I think they need to sit back and think about that." Coalition Against Racism and Fascism spokeswoman Vashti Kenway said anti-racism groups had felt compelled to send a message that racist views were unacceptable.

"The clear message is that Melbournians aren't going to stand for the kind of far-right racist, sexist, homophobic attitudes... that we're prepared to say Melbourne is not the place for those kind of attitudes," she said.

Reclaim Australia also held a rally in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, where they were again outnumbered by anti-racism protesters.

More Reclaim Australia rallies are planned for other parts of Australia on Sunday, with a government MP George Christensen intending to speak at one in Mackay in Queensland state.

But Richard Marles, from the opposition Labor Party, said Reclaim Australia events were "synonymous with racist behaviour".

"It is extraordinary that a government MP will address one of these rallies and that the Prime Minister (Tony Abbott) is allowing it," Marles.

Reclaim Australia held rallies in April in which hundreds of people, many waving Australian flags and carrying signs such as "Yes Australia. No Sharia", demonstrated against against Islamic extremism. These protests also prompted anti-racism protests.

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