The Richmond Tigers and Melbourne Demons have lashed out at protestors who took over the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne on Wednesday.
About 300 to 400 demonstrators returned to the city on Wednesday, despite the city's Covid-19 lockdown and a warning from Victorian authorities.
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What started as a protest against mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations for the construction sector and a closure of building site tea rooms has since turned into wider unrest.
Chanting "every day" from the shrine, hundreds of mostly men without masks, some still wearing high-visibility clothing like in days earlier, marched through the city to the war memorial.
A tense stand-off between demonstrators and police then descended into violent scenes and arrests.
On Thursday, the Richmond and Melbourne AFL clubs - who partner with the Shrine of Remembrance for the annual Anzac Day game - hit out at the protesters.
“The club is disgusted that today’s protest was staged at such a sacred place and those involved should be ashamed of their behaviour," the Tigers posted on Twitter.
“The Shrine is an important place of reflection and education and should be treated with the respect it deserves.”
The Demons replied to the tweet, writing: "The Shrine stands as a symbol of respect for the service and sacrifice of Australians and should always be treated as such."
The Shrine of Remembrance partners the Richmond and Melbourne football clubs in the delivery of the annual Anzac Eve game. The Club is disgusted that today’s protest was staged at such a sacred place and those involved should be ashamed of their behaviour. pic.twitter.com/aVVti91D55
— Richmond FC 🐯🏆 (@Richmond_FC) September 22, 2021
Outrage over 'disgraceful' scenes at Shrine of Remembrance
The stand-off lasted more than three hours as police tried to negotiate with protesters to peacefully exit via St Kilda Road.
By 4:30pm, some of the crowd dispersed but dozens remained behind and became rowdy, before police fired what appeared to be rubber bullets.
A flare was thrown in retaliation as the riot squad cleared the crowd and took control of the site, which was left strewn with broken bottles and rubbish.
Deputy Commissioner Ross Guenther said more than 200 arrests were made over the course of the day, with vision showing many fleeing protesters being chased down by police in nearby streets.
"It was completely disrespectful that the crowd ended up at the shrine, which is such hallowed ground in this great city," he told reporters.
RSL Victoria also condemned protesters for relocating to the shrine, saying it is sacred to all people who have served and died in the armed forces.
"If any individuals or groups choose to express their political views, positions or ideological theories in the grounds of the shrine at any time, they are completely disrespecting the sanctity of this time-honoured space," it said.
Shrine of Remembrance chair Stephen Bowater called it "disgraceful".
Deputy Premier James Merlino refused to call those in the city protesters, instead describing the scenes as "a mob acting criminally" who were putting the Victorian public at risk.
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