Australian rallies go ahead as court overturns ban

Tens of thousands of people turned out to protest across Australia in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Sydney “Stop All Black Deaths in Custody” rally was declared an authorised public assembly after a late decision by the court of appeal was overturned and allowed people to gather in cities and towns across Australia to march against the indigenous deaths in custody and the killing of George Floyd an unarmed US citizen.

Rallies were organised in Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide and elsewhere and there were no reports of unrest.

Thousands of people marched along the route from Town Hall to Belmore Park, clapping and yelling “I can’t breathe” – the latter among Floyd’s final words – before being led in chants of “Whose lives matter? Black lives matter”

There were a few tense scenes later in the evening at Sydney's Central Station, with police using pepper spray, but there were only three arrests in the city overall, among a total of 20,000 protesters, police said.

Organisers of Sydney’s Black Lives Matter protest had lodged a last-ditch appeal after the New South Wales supreme court ruled their Saturday demonstration would be unlawful under Covid-19 restrictions.

Although the rallies were sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, many in Australia were also protesting against the treatment of its indigenous population by police.

Thousands of protesters held up banners with slogans such as “we all bleed the same colour”, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and “tolerating racism is racism”. Protesters wore face masks and organisers offered hand sanitiser, after authorities urged people to avoid the mass gathering because of Covid-19 fears.

Organisers across Australia encouraged those attending rallies to use hand sanitisers and observe social distancing.

Images showed that although the majority of demonstrators have been wearing face coverings, many of the protesters have been close together.

The chief health official in the state of Victoria said it was "not the time to be having large gatherings".

Victoria police said on Saturday they would be fining organisers A$1,652 ($1,150; £900) each for breaking health rules. It was unclear if Melbourne's attending protesters would be fined.