Police used pepper spray on rowdy youths and cleared Federation Square on Saturday night in a bid to stop another year of violence at Melbourne’s Moomba Festival.
Determined to avoid a repeat of last year’s mayhem, which saw gangs of youths rampage through parts of the CBD, police had deployed a massive presence in the CBD.
Deputy Commissioner Andrew Crisp said their preparations were warranted, as some 100 youths, mostly males, came into Melbourne’s CBD looking to start a fight at the Moomba Festival.
A total of 53 arrests were made and quantities of weapons and contraband seized.
Five youths have been charged have been charged with riotous behaviour after what Mr Crisp described as an attempt to create havoc which had been nipped in the bud.
Police conducted random searches throughout the night as mounted police patrolled the area, which is directly across the road from Melbourne’s iconic Flinders Street Station.
Police also enlisted the help of ethnic community leaders in a bid to make sure this year’ event went off without incident.
But those precautions did not stop a spate of arrests as police struggled to move one group of teens out of the plaza that hours earlier had been thronged with families watching the fireworks display over the Yarra.
Witnesses said the trouble began around midnight, with news reports saying the catalyst was friction between two rival groups of youths.
One group was cordoned off by police and escorted across the street to Flinders Street station and ordered to leave the CBD, witnesses said.
Mr Crisp said about 100 mostly young men came into the CBD specifically to fight and and gain notoriety among their peers for their behaviour.
Sudanese community groups, including faith-based Planet Shakers, worked with police to get some youths out of the CBD, Mr Crisp said.
More than 800 people were searched for weapons after Victoria Police declared the festival a designated search area under the Control of Weapons Act.
Knives, scissors, a Taser and knuckledusters were among weapons seized.
A total of 53 people were arrested over Friday and Saturday, including:
* Five for riotous behaviour
* 14 for being drunk in public
* Nine for possessing weapons
* Four for assaulting police
* Two for criminal damage
Two police were treated for minor injuries during the operation, one for grazes after tripping and the other for a wrist injury, Mr Crisp said.
Despite the tensions, more than 1 million visitors are expected to visit the banks of the Yarra River throughout the weekend for Moomba.
The festivities include water skiing, fireworks, sand sculpting and a carnival.
Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said Moomba would be more spread out this year, with festivities on both sides of the Yarra, an indication of its growing popularity.
“When I first became Mayor I must admit I thought Moomba was pretty sad and we had a decision to make then; either bring it back to life or euthanase it,” he said.
“We decided to bring it back to life and I think that was one of our best decisions.”
– AAP and ABC