Police in full riot gear engulfed a Victorian Market to take control of a protest against the state’s COVID-19 lockdown on Sunday.
In a strong response to a second day of protests, shielded riot police and officers on horseback were deployed in great numbers, outnumbering the estimated 200 to 250 people who had gathered outside Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market.
Two men were arrested in a fruit and vegetable stall.
A police statement confirming the two arrests read: “A 44-year-old Burwood East man, believed to be a primary agitator for these protests, remains in police custody and is expected to be charged with incitement.”
“His home will be subject to a search warrant.
“Another person was arrested for assault police.”
Across Melbourne, 72 more people were detained at smaller unprohibited gatherings.
Previous protests against Melbourne’s strict lockdown have been mostly peaceful, but tensions escalated at the market.
“Police were disappointed that many protestors were aggressive and threatened violence towards officers. There were no injuries to police that have been identified at this time,” read the statement.
The search for offenders are ongoing, police said, adding that “our investigations into this protest will continue, and we expect to issue further fines once the identity of individuals has been confirmed.” So far, 176 infringement fines have been issued.
“There were a few tense moments when protesters started grabbing fruit and throwing it at police,” an AAP photographer said from the scene.
Other videos show mounted police riding close to a group of protesters in a bid to break the gathering up.
Protesters yelled, “This is not a police state” and “You’ve got to be on the right side of history.”
“There was also a bit of aggression toward the media, calling us ‘scum,'” the AAP photographer said.
Victoria’s Shadow Health Minister, Georgie Crozier, expressed her dismay at the scenes of the protests.
“These images are just so disturbing … this is Melbourne, Victoria for gods sake!!… but you’d think it was some tinpot regime. So over the top!” Crozier wrote in a Twitter post.
Discontent in Victoria about lockdown measures has increased in recent weeks after the Victoria government extended the state of emergency powers for six months after the initial legislated six-month period came to an end. Stage four restrictions were also extended by two weeks.
At a press conference on Sept. 13, Premier Daniel Andrews extended emergency powers.
“I can announce that we have extended the state of emergency and the state of disaster for a further four weeks,” he said.
A state of disaster empowers police to override constitutional norms to ensure people comply with the Chief Health Officer’s directions.
In Melbourne, this has meant the enforcement of mask-wearing, staying with 5 kilometre distance from home, and the state’s 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew under the city’s stage four restrictions.
The Australian Associated Press contributed to this article.