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Vic: Police under fire for excessive force in Indian protest

01 Jun 2009 8:05 PM

MELBOURNE, June 1 AAP - Police have come under fire, accused of using excessive force to break up an all-night rally as the fallout over attacks on Indian students deepens.

About 2,000 Indian protesters blockaded one of Melbourne's busiest intersections until 5am (AEST) on Monday, calling for action against racial violence.

Eighteen people were arrested and two face charges for assault and criminal damage.

One protester said people were dragged and punched by police.

But the force's top cop defended the use of force, saying an officer's hand was bitten during the melee.

Yogesh Malhotra, a banker, said about 200 police surrounded the protesters, using heavy-handed tactics, including pressure points, to break up the rally.

"(There were) six (officers) to one guy who was sitting down peacefully, who was punched and dragged," he told ABC Radio.

"There was definitely an amount of excessive force by Victoria Police."

The protest rally was organised by the Federation of Indian Students of Australia (FISA) after a series of violent attacks on students, believed to be racially motivated.

Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland said he had watched the police operation on camera and the level of force was appropriate.

"There was some force used after the students were given the opportunity for the last time to leave the intersection and they refused to do so," he said.

"One of my officers was bitten on the hand and suffered an injury as a result of that.

"There was some violence, it could have been a lot worse, but overall I think we got out of it quite well."

Mr Overland blamed a group of "rabble-rousers" for hijacking a peaceful demonstration, bringing in alcohol and weapons.

He said most of them weren't Indian and the situation got out of control.

Swinburne University Student Union president Damian Ridgwell condemned the "violent attack" by police.

He said a sitting protester was knocked unconscious by repeated punches to the head and another was hospitalised with a broken thumb.

Premier John Brumby said the government and police were working to combat racially motivated violence.

"Everybody should take a step back and just calm down now ... and we'll get on top of this issue."

Mr Overland said Indian students had been caught up in the broader issue of escalating street violence but assaults against them had actually decreased in the western suburbs.

But some of the attacks were racially motivated, he said.

Police figures reveal a 35 per cent increase in attacks on Indians between 2006/07 and 2007/08.

Statewide figures show 1,447 people of Indian origin were victims of crimes such as robberies and assaults in 2007/08, an increase from 1,082 the previous year.

There were a total of 36,765 victims in the state in 2007/08, according to Victoria Police.

FISA adviser Gautam Gupta said there was a racial element in some of the attacks.

"I hear victims' stories who say when they are attacking them, they are abusing them, saying things like `curry bashing, Indian hunting, you bloody curry, get out', that's what victims are telling me," he told AAP.

But, Mr Gupta said, the attacks were not a reflection of Australia as a whole.

"It is not about Australia, it's about certain people, a certain element. I'm not sure where the Australia thing came from," he said.

"It's a lot of misguidance, the media is hyping it up."