Australia: faith leaders condemn riots

 Religious leaders in Australia have condemned the riots that exploded in Sidney over the last few days and are appealing for calm as the weekend approaches. A number of meetings have been held across Sydney aimed at defusing the violence. Clashes began in the suburbs of Sydney after white life savers on famous surf beaches south east of the city were attacked by a group of men of Middle Eastern appearance. The beach area is home to mainly Australians of European origin, perhaps anxious to 'defend their territory' , and is a regular weekend venue for Muslim youths from western suburbs of Sydney who have had to cope with vilification, racism, abuse and fear of a racial backlash for a number of years. In a media appeal, Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sidney, said: "These riots are disgraceful: all Australians of goodwill must reject and isolate extremists on both sides and put an end to violence". Every citizen has the right to be free to use beaches without fear of being involved in criminal attacks, he said, promising that the Catholic community would do everything possible to help restore calm and promote reconciliation. Last night Church Resources said that four churches in Sydney's southwest had been attacked in 24 hours. A community hall linked to a Uniting Church was burned to the ground on Tuesday, carol singers were spat on and church buildings peppered with gunfire. St Thomas's Anglican Church, which has a primarily Chinese congregation, had all its front windows smashed. The night before, Molotov cocktails were used in an attack on an Anglican Church in Macquarie Fields. Cardinal Pell appealed to gangs of Middle Eastern descent not to target Christmas celebrations. He said the attack in the multicultural suburb of Auburn, where Lebanese Muslims are believed to have turned on Lebanese Christians, was "apparently motivated by religious intolerance". He said: "I am deeply concerned about the targeting of Christmas celebrations at schools for students as young as five years old." The Bishop of Sydney's Maronite Catholic community, Bishop Ad Abikaram, also expressed his concern. He said in a statement: "As Bishop of the Maronite Catholic Church of Australia, I am compelled to speak out on the tragic events of the past few days." "With my fellow-Australians, I am appalled at the violence perpetrated. We support the Government and the Police in their efforts to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice." Arab community leaders have called for a curfew tomorrow and Saturday nights, and all of Sunday, to stop any further trouble. Ahmad Kamaledine, president of the Lebanese Moslems Association, said: "Those who violate the curfew will be doing so in defiance of their faith, of the [holy] law, and their community leaders", according to Australian media reports. New South Wales state Premier Morris Iemma said police would keep a close watch on places of worship in the coming days. Source: Fides/Church Resources/BBC

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