FIVE pro-refugee activists were arrested today during a violent clash with police on the fringe of the Baxter detention centre in South Australia’s north.
Police on horseback charged a 200-strong group of protesters who marched towards an outer fence of the detention facility on Port Augusta’s outskirts.
After attacking Baxter’s front gate last night, protesters today breached a razor-wire topped outer fence and were about 150 metres from the centre’s boundary fence when police charged.
One female protester was injured when tramped on by a police horse, refugee advocates said.
Police, saying the protesters were trespassing after entering commonwealth land, claimed horses were struck by demonstrators during today’s confrontation on the western side of the facility.
But some of the 400 protesters camping near Baxter have accused police of using bullying tactics since their arrival yesterday.
State and federal police in riot gear appeared to outnumber the protesters, using a helicopter and numerous ground forces to monitor the demonstrators.
"They (police) are the ones with the helmets and the clubs and horses, they are bullies," said Phil Chilton from Perth’s Refugee Rights Action Network.
"They told us what they expected from us. Unfortunately we can’t respect that because they have completely removed our right to democratically protest.
"We don’t want to clash, we want to have a strong, loud protest to make our point here."
Refugee Action Coalition NSW spokesman Ian Rintoul said police, who have prevented protesters camping within 4km of the detention centre, used excessive force during today’s clash.
"I don’t think anyone could be happy with the police response this morning," Mr Rintoul said.
"They used force and overwhelming police numbers to push people back off Commonwealth land, it was a quite brutal use of the horses.
"The vast majority think stepping over a small barbed wire fence is not a crime, but it’s certainly not a violent act."
SA Police Assistant Commissioner Gary Burns said there was a hard core within the protest camp, adding police were likely to charge people over last night’s protest, when demonstrators converged on the detention centre’s main entrance about 9.30pm (CDT).
In a 90-minute rally, some protesters damaged a front gate and part of a wire fence and daubed graffiti on a nearby pipeline, said police, who hoped to identify perpetrators from video taken of the protest.
Demonstrators vowed to continue their protest against the Government’s mandatory detention policy until Easter Monday.
Source : http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,12661213-1246,00.html