Australian nationalist protesters and anti-racist groups have staged rival demonstrations in Melbourne, with police using capsicum spray and horse squads against crowds. Clashes occurred after counter-demonstrators flocked to oppose rallies called by right-wing groups Reclaim Australia and United Patriots Front. 

One anti-racist campaigner declared victory "against the racists". But police said the violence meant the message from either side was lost.

Dozens answered the nationalists' call to protest near Parliament House for the state of Victoria, against the spread of Islam, halal food and non-white immigration in Australia.

Police encircled the protesters and were in turn surrounded by hundreds of counter-demonstrators, a small number of whom tried to break through the police lines to reach the nationalists, reports said.

Bottles were thrown and protesters occasionally managed to punch or kick their opponents.

Police deployed capsicum spray and mounted officers to force back the crowds. Four people were arrested.

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"[Police] were at significant threat of having their lines overrun and it was a tool we had to use at the time," said Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane.

He claimed the message of both sides had been drowned out by "violence against our police members and police horses".

But some anti-racist campaigners accused the police of "brutally attacking anti-racist demonstrators with pepper spray".

Nonetheless, they declared victory in their confrontation with the nationalist demonstrators.

"If this was the best the 'master race' could muster, it was pathetic," said Campaign Against Racism and Fascism spokesperson Jerome Small.

"Their national mobilisation could only get out around 120."

More nationalist rallies and counter-demonstrations have been called for Sunday, including in Sydney.

The opposition Labor Party criticised a plan by government MP George Christensen to speak at a rally in Queensland state, saying it was "extraordinary" that Prime Minister Tony Abbott was allowing it.





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