UPDATE: There were “no incidents of note” in Bendigo overnight after Saturday’s rally and counter-rally in central Bendigo, police say.
Inspector Peter Greaney said most of the people involved in the rallies had left the city between 4pm and 5pm, while a number remained at licenced premises.
The heavy police contingent remained in Bendigo until midnight last night.
SATURDAY: Victoria Police will maintain a strong presence in Bendigo tonight following a rally in the central business district this afternoon.
Superintendent Mick West said extra officers would remain in the city tonight to keep the peace.
“We’ve got some extra members but we’re not expecting any trouble,” he said.
Far-right groups protesting the approval of Bendigo’s first mosque clashed with left-wing demonstrators outside Town Hall.
Police used pepper spray to subdue the crowd when violent scuffles broke out after a left-wing protester burnt an Australian flag.
Superintendent West said about 650 protesters participated in the rally and counter rally.
There were no arrests or injuries, he said.
“The behaviour was what we expected. At these rallies people in both sides are very passionate. It’s a democracy we live in and our priority was making sure people were safe and there were no injuries or breaches of the peace,” Superintendent West said.
He praised the professionalism of the 350 police officers at the rally.
“They did exceptionally well. This was a meticulously planned event and our people performed admirably. We couldn’t be more pleased with how they performed,” he said.
Superintendent West said he believed the rally was one of the biggest Victoria Police operations to have taken place outside of the Melbourne CBD.
Many of the protesters came from out of town to attend the rally.
Bendigo Mayor Peter Cox said both protesting groups had been allowed to express their points of view.
He criticised the anti-mosque protesters for their campaign of “misinformation” against the project.
“It is disappointing so many people are coming from outside of Bendigo trying to influence the democratic process here,” he said.
“I think they had me making some millions of dollars out of the mosque. Just the lies that have been printed on their leaflets and whatnot, I just hope people look at them twice.
“Certainly they don’t follow the democratic processes. They believe that their point of view is the only point of view and that’s not Australia.
“I’m certainly very unhappy with their words and the way they treat people.”
Councillor Elise Chapman, draped in an Australian flag and holding a placard denouncing Islam, was one of those rallying against the mosque.
Cr Cox said her views did not reflect the views of the majority of Bendigo people.
“She’s been a leading force in relation to the rally against the mosque,” he said.
“She has a very narrow point of view. I don’t think that’s the point of view of the majority of people in Bendigo.”
City of Greater Bendigo Council approved the application for the mosque in 2014. A group of residents appealed the decision to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which upheld the council’s decision.