A man was taken away by Victoria Police after he refused to take off a mask. (AAP: Joe Castro)
Hundreds of opposing protesters have been kept apart in central Melbourne as police test new powers to prevent violence by masked offenders.
Right-wing Jewish activist Avi Yemeni attracted about 50 people for a Make Victoria Safe rally outside Victoria’s Parliament, while at least three times that number gathered opposite a police barrier.
James Oaten tweets: “‘Anti racist” protesters chants as opposing “Make Victoria Safe” protesters
Police arrested at least one person from each opposing group, and one protester taking part in the “anti-racism” march was taken away for wearing a mask.
The two groups used loud speakers and chanting in a futile effort to drown each other out.
Mr Yemeni said his protest was rallying against violent crime.
“We all deserve the right to own our own businesses without groups of thugs coming in and robbing us,” he said.
“We want minimum sentencing for violent offenders … we demand no bail for violent offenders.”
He led a chant “black, white, straight or queer, we refuse to live in fear.”
Mr Yemeni said he organised a peaceful protest.
“I may not agree with everyone’s opinion that’s standing here supporting this cause,” he said.
“There may be people here from the right, there may be people here from the left.
“But that doesn’t change the fact that we all deserve to live without fear in Victoria.”
Noelene Nolan, who lives in Melbourne’s south-east, said she joined the Make Victoria Safe rally because she had been the victim of two home invasions in four months.
“I don’t feel safe … I’ve got an obvious vulnerability with my disability walker and I want my streets to be safe, she said.
“They may take my items but they won’t be taking my peace of mind.”
The two groups used loud speakers and chanting to drown each other out. (ABC News: James Oaten)
But left-wing group the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism accused Mr Yemeni of promoting a “message of hate”.
Kieran Bennett who described himself as an anarchist from the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism said his group did not plan for any violence at the rally.
“The rally that we are opposing here today is targeting, in particular, African migrant youth and other migrant communities,” he said.
“The organiser has made very clear on Facebook and in his other public communications that he sees the issue of crime in terms of African youth that he wants to see deported.”
Far left and far right groups have violently clashed in the past in Melbourne, including attacks by masked anarchists, prompting new laws that allow Victoria Police to arrest anyone covering their face at a protest and break up rallies.
The laws came into effect on September 13.