Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged people not to attend planned Black Lives Matter protests around the country this weekend, citing the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Organizers expect thousands of people to attend rallies in Sydney, Melbourne and other cities. The protests have split opinion, with some state police and lawmakers approving the action despite the health risks.
Morrison said people should find other ways to express anger following the death of Black American George Floyd in U.S. police custody.
“The health advice is very clear, it’s not a good idea to go,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra. “Let’s find a better way and another way to express these sentiments … let’s exercise our liberties responsibly.”
The state of New South Wales has lodged a legal application to stop a Black Lives Matter protest occurring in Sydney, state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Friday.
The protest had secured permission as it originally planned to have fewer than 500 people present. But Berejiklian said when it became clear that thousands planned to attend, the legal application was made to the state’s Supreme Court.
The protests in Sydney and other cities also intend to throw a spotlight on police treatment of Australian Indigenous people, including the deaths of Aboriginal men in custody.
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Australia has reported daily single digit and low double digit numbers of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks and has 490 active cases, with just 25 people in hospital.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Jane Wardell)