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Police pounce on anti-lockdown demonstrators

Fourteen people were arrested and at least 51 have been fined during anti-lockdown protests across Melbourne.

Police branded the activity “disappointing” and late on Saturday said they expected to issue further fines.

One man who was arrested says it was worth the fine after he bizarrely made himself known to police as they started to walk away.

The man called out to police as they crossed the road and proudly displayed a sign before being handcuffed and led away.

He told NCA NewsWire before his arrest he was not a conspiracy theorist, but just anti-government and anti-lockdown and was prepared to get arrested and fined for it.

About 100 people attended the protests across various locations, police said.

“Despite all the warnings, it was disappointing to see individuals turn out to protest in the city today, putting the lives of Victorians at risk,” the force said in a statement on Saturday afternoon.

“Our investigations into this protest will continue, and we expect to issue further fines once the identity of individuals has been confirmed.”

“Anyone thinking of attending a protest can expect the same swift and firm response from police as has occurred today and at previous protests that were in breach of Chief Health Officer restrictions.”

Police visited 90 “persons of interest” to urge them not to attend the demonstrations before today’s protests.

About a dozen anti-lockdown protesters were arrested on Saturday near Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance with a heavy police presence so far preventing any large groups from gathering.

Marty Focker, who was handcuffed and led away about 12.30pm, told NCA NewsWire it wasn’t the first time he had been arrested during the coronavirus lockdown.

He said he was going for a walk and “that’s it”.

“We had a mask, we had a flag, it was pretty obvious we were here to protest,” he said while handcuffed.

When asked if he was more than 5km from home, he said “allegedly”.

“I’m not sure how far my house is but he (the police officer) said it’s a bit further away,” Mr Focker said.

Mr Focker went viral on social media last month when he was arrested and fined while having a barbecue in his neighbours front yard.

His neighbour was also arrested at the Shrine on Saturday.

The neighbour told police the Tan was the place to be today.

“I’m walking, yes I’m 5km away but this is the place to be today,” he told his arresting officers.

“You guys are all here, why can’t I come here.”

Critical incident and public order response teams, the mounted branch and uniform officers blocked off the eternal flame forecourt ahead of the planned “freedom walk”.

The air wing are also monitoring the Royal Botanic Gardens from the sky.

Victoria Police also blocked key arterial roads in Melbourne with checkpoints as they try to stop people entering the city to protest.

A protest promoting itself as a “Melbourne Walk for Freedom” was promoted through a Facebook event showing at least 1500 people were interested in going.

Organisers have advertised the event as “a legal walk allowing citizens to come together, get healthy and talk about getting our freedoms back”.

Separate protests have also been proposed for Sunday.

It comes after hundreds of protesters clashed with police in ugly scenes at the Shrine of Remembrance and Albert Park Lake last Saturday, which saw 17 arrested and 180 fined for breaches of the chief health officer’s directions.

Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius again urged Victorians not to leave home to illegally protest.

“If people still choose to ignore our warnings and attend any of these protest events they should be prepared for a strong police presence in the city and surrounding areas,” he said.

“These are significant police resources drawn from across our uniform members and our specialist capabilities, these are resources that are unfairly being taken away from local communities that would otherwise be directed to keeping the community safe.

“We have to direct those resources towards containing the behaviour of a small number of selfish Victorians.”

Mr Cornelius said people were kidding themselves if they thought they could leave home for exercise and dress that up as protest.

“Don’t take us for fools. We’ll call you out and hold you to account,” he said.

“We’ll have no hesitation in issuing the $1652 fine to people who are engaged in flagrant breaches of the stage-four restrictions.

“Please help keep your fellow Victorians safe. It is at the moment unlawful to leave home to engage in protest activity; it’s clear under the current restrictions.”

Mr Cornelius said he was “sick” of having to urge “selfish” Victorians not to illegally protest.

“It’s incredibly frustrating and if people were less selfish and a little bit more grown up we wouldn’t have to keep doing this,” the Assistant Commissioner said.

Police arrested and charged a Middle Park man, 43, with two counts of incitement in the lead-up to this weekend’s planned protests.

Police also spoke to a number of people planning to protest across the weekend and “put them on notice” not to attend.

jack.paynter@news.com.au

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