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Protesters splinter and regather despite police efforts to arrest them

Protesters have swamped Melbourne’s CBD for the third day, leading to police setting off tear gas after hundreds converged on Melbourne’s most famous war memorial.

The crowd of up 1000 protesters finally dispersed just before 5pm, causing chaotic scenes around the Shrine of Remembrance, after a tense stand-off with police which spanned hours.

A flare was set off and explosion-like sounds were heard as protesters ran from the shrine after police deployed tear gas.

A car crashed into a tram while protesters flooded the road. (Nine)
Protestors run away from the shrine. (Nine)

Many ran through traffic on a nearby road, where a car crashed into a tram in the chaos.

Police have since been patrolling the surrounding streets on a Bearcat.

Protesters were reportedly throwing items at police right before police took action.

Police circled the hundreds of protesters after they climbed the stairs of the Shrine of Remembrance, having spent the morning walking the streets of Melbourne CBD.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 22: Protesters are seen walking through Melbourne CBD on September 22, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. Protests started on Monday over new COVID-19 vaccine requirements for construction workers but  turned into larger and at times violent demonstrations against lockdown restrictions in general. Melbourne is currently subject to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, with people only permitted to leave home for essential reasons. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)
A man holds a flare as protests continue for the third day in the Victorian capital. (Getty)

Quelling the protest proved difficult this morning, with demonstrators splintering and regathering despite police efforts to disperse the crowds.

Deputy Premier James Merlino described the protests as “incredibly scary” and “thuggery from hundreds of people”. 

“A terrifying experience for innocent people who are on the West Gate Bridge last night. People you know who were innocently out and about and witnessing this thuggery. Journalists being assaulted. This is not who we are,” Mr Merlino said. 

“I’m not going to call it protests because it is not a protest. This is a mob acting criminally.” 

9News reporter Lana Murphy earlier said the groups had separated down laneways and streets before police could surround them.

The protesters are reportedly using an encrypted messaging application to communicate.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 22: Protesters walk down Swanston Street in the CBD on September 22, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. Protests started on Monday over new COVID-19 vaccine requirements for construction workers but  turned into larger and at times violent demonstrations against lockdown restrictions in general. Melbourne is currently subject to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, with people only permitted to leave home for essential reasons. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)
A shirtless man smokes a vape as he walks down a crowded Swanston Street. (Getty)

Hundreds of men marched at the top of the CBD, chanting “f— Dan Andrews”.

Some were wearing high-vis but most were dressed in dark plain clothes.

The group of protesters circled north of the CFMEU headquarters, where hundreds of police, including riot police, stand guard.

Protesters have refused to speak to media on the ground, chanting “fake news” when approached by reporters.

They have instead continued to live stream the action on social media themselves.

“It seems this is quite a dynamic situation,” Today reporter Christine Ahern said this morning.

“What police have been doing is pouncing on them one by one, arresting them quite aggressively actually. I did see one police car pull up and tackle a fellow to the ground with a gun drawn, at the same time a woman went past with a baby in a pram, crying.

A protester is arrested in Melbourne.
A protester is arrested in Melbourne. (Getty)

“This is a much smaller group than yesterday. You can see it is a dynamic situation. We’re just walking with them now but police are following their every move.

“But the riot police and mounted police, they’re still back at CFMEU headquarters so whether they follow this group or not I don’t know but I can tell you that police have been almost picking them off one by one and arresting them.”

A group of protesters appears to have ignited a flare in the Melbourne CBD. (9News)

‘Appalling’ and ‘unlawful’

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, speaking in Washington DC, addressed the protests this morning.

“I can understand that people would be concerned about the shutdown of the construction industry – these are important jobs and they will return, we will get through this – but protest activity, and what we’ve seen there, I think, is highly distressing and that is not an appropriate response,” Mr Morrison said.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews decried the violent protest action across the Melbourne CBD in recent days as “appalling” and “unlawful”.

Mr Andrews said police will not hesitate to take action against those who acted violently and unlawfully amid threats of further action in Melbourne today.

“They’re not there to protest, they’re there for a fight, they are there to pretend to be protesting,” he said.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has said many protesters in Melbourne were “there for a fight”. (Photograph by Chris Hopkins)

“What we saw yesterday is an insult, an insult, to the vast, vast majority of tradies or people in the building industry who are not about wrecking, they’re about building.

“Yesterday we saw 1000, 2000 people, many of whom behaved appallingly.”

The premier said there were few words that could adequately describe the ugly protest scenes of yesterday.

“Whether you want to call it a riot, a fray, ugly scenes, you can scarcely find a word to adequately describe what we saw yesterday,” Mr Andrews said.

“That’s why Victoria Police are not tolerating this.”

Mr Andrews said the construction industry needed a “reset” due to high COVID-19 transmission and its lack of compliance with the rules.

Premier Andrews likened the protests to riots. (Chris Hopkins)

The premier received advice that shutting down parts of the industry would have been “unsafe” and sparked an uproar at a localised level.

“There’s no campaign that’s going to get a run here to change these rules.”

Victoria Police have warned they will be “less tolerant” towards protesters threatening to gather for a third day after violent scenes across Melbourne.

Protesters are expected to take to the streets within a matter of hours after Melbourne was brought to a standstill by aggressive activists demanding a vaccine mandate for the construction industry be lifted yesterday.

Victoria Police arrested 62 people in the protests yesterday, with Chief Commissioner Shane Patton warning there would be no more “cat-and-mouse games” today.

Melbourne protest feed image September 22 arrest vape flare

Melbourne rocked by third day of CBD protests

“People who are contemplating coming in here today to protest – do not do so,” he said.

“You’re not going to be welcomed with open arms.”

A significant police presence and response has been prepared by police to stop protesters, Commissioner Patton said.

“We have significant tactics in place, we will be agile in our response, we will be very swift in our response and conduct as we have seen yesterday and the previous day will not be tolerated.”

Protesters march through Melbourne as a flare is lit during yesterday’s rally. (Getty)

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent earlier said officers would be better prepared to tackle any unfolding chaos, with their operational tactics shifting with the threat.

“One thing is for certain – we’ll be less tolerant than we were yesterday. We are better prepared and we’ll do what we need to do,” Deputy Commissioner Nugent told Today.

“We can’t continue this, we have to deal with this as quickly and as effectively as we can.”

‘Thugs’ take over: Police Minister

Victoria’s Police Minister Lisa Neville this morning described the protesters violently storming through Melbourne CBD as “thugs”.

Three police were injured in the violence yesterday.

“That’s on top of the injuries we have seen over the weekend and the day before,” Ms Neville said.

Police Minister Lisa Neville called the protesters “thugs”. (Getty)

“That’s just unacceptable. Our police officers turn up to work, they should be able to feel safe in doing that work on behalf of Victorians.”

Ms Neville said the protest action was a “slap in the face” to the Victorian community doing it tough in lockdown.

More than 500 police were on the ground responding to the protest action yesterday.

‘Fake tradies’ take over protest

Commissioner Patton said the protesters were a “mixed crowd”, some of whom were pretending to be tradespeople and connected to the Freedom Rally.

“We know from what we have been monitoring that people are being encouraged to put on high-vis gear, to put on workwear, to come in under the cover of a crowd,” he said.

Victoria Police will not reveal their tactics on tackling the protests today but assured officers will be out in full force.

“I want (the protesters) to be completely unaware of what we’re going to do and what capacity they may face,” Commissioner Patton said.

Police have arrested 62 people and vowed to be out in force again today as a third rally is expected. (Jason South)

COVID-19 spreading due to construction non-compliance

Mr Andrews said the reason there was a vaccine mandate and now a two-week shut down in the construction industry was widespread transmission of COVID-19.

He said there are more cases in that sector than in aged care.

“I am gutted to have to shut this industry down but be in no doubt, there are 350 cases in construction, over 150 different sites during August and September,” Mr Andrews said.

Thousands of protesters are refusing to get COVID-19 vaccines despite a rise in cases linked to construction sites. (Getty)

“This is real. Unless we took this action, and unless we see compliance higher, then we’ll continue to see the spread of this virus and that puts everything at risk.”

The premier reiterated the “ugly scenes” from the protest did not define the entire construction industry.

“This sort of behaviour is unlawful, it’s ugly, it will not be tolerated, but I do think it’s important to say that the behaviour of a few should not be seen to cast aspersions or define an entire industry.”

There have been 337 coronavirus infections linked to 154 building sites across Victoria from August 5 to Monday.

Of these, 239 cases are linked to sites in metropolitan Melbourne. Nine of these cases live in regional Victoria. Seven construction sites are each linked to five or more cases.

Overnight, Mr Andrews said “anger” won’t end the pandemic.

The Premier pleaded with people to do the right thing, pointing to the tireless work of healthcare workers throughout the pandemic.

“We are calling for common sense and voices of reason to prevail,” the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Victoria branch) said in a statement.

“Nurses, midwives and carers are exhausted and frustrated as they watch protesters fight for their right to overwhelm our health system.

“Nurses have supported dying COVID patients only able to comfort their families via a screen.

“Do not leave all the heavy lifting to nurses, midwives and personal care workers.”

Shorten ‘sick’ over scenes

Former union leader Bill Shorten said he “felt sick” watching the scenes yesterday.

“I literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Mr Shorten told Today this morning.

“It’s gutless to attack the police doing their job. It’s gutless to carry on like this when the nurses and doctors are working so hard.

“I didn’t recognise Melbourne. I thought this was like something out of Trump-land when they stormed the Capitol Building.

“I never thought I would see this sort of lawlessness in my home town of Melbourne.”

Riot police are seen on guard at the bottom of Westgate Bridge as thousands march through Melbourne. (Getty)

Mr Shorten said he believed the thousands of demonstrators were made up of “opportunists looking for trouble” and not a significant number of those in the construction industry.

“If there are members of unions who are involved in this then they’re not trade unionists that I respect,” Mr Shorten said.

“The trade union movement that I have supported in the past does things peacefully and it does things for the collective good. This is a strike of the selfish.

“If you want to be tough, if you want to be brave, roll up your sleeve and get an injection.”

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