Australian police disperse Black Lives Matter rally

Police arrested a leader of an anti-racism protest and shut down the demonstration before it started Tuesday after courts ruled the gathering in downtown Sydney was illegal due to the pandemic threat.

Organizers pressed ahead despite ban on protest due to pandemic

Black Lives Matter protest organizer Paddy Gibson is detained by police Tuesday in Sydney, Australia. The rally was organized to protest the deaths of Aboriginal people in custody and in solidarity with the global Black Lives Matter movement. (Brook Mitchell/Getty Images)

Australian police on Tuesday detained at least one person and ordered about 50 others to disperse after they gathered in Sydney to go ahead with a Black Lives Matter protest despite an official ban because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The march had been called to highlight the deaths of Aboriginal people in custody, building on momentum from global rallies for racial justice and against police brutality.

Organizers had pressed ahead with the gathering despite the courts upholding the police ban, pledging to comply with physical distancing restrictions.

However, police detained organizer Paddy Gibson in a public park shortly before the scheduled start of the march and ordered other participants to leave the area, according to a Reuters witness.

A demonstrator holds up a citation ticket after police shut down a rally that was deemed unlawful in Sydney on Tuesday. (Loren Elliot/Reuters)

Reuters estimated there were about 50 people gathered on a rainy day in the city, well short of the 500 people that organizers had expected to attend before the ban.

Australia on Monday reported its highest ever single-day increase in cases after a flare-up of infections in Victoria state.

Neighbouring New South Wales state, of which Sydney is the capital, is also battling several virus clusters and authorities have warned people taking part in the rally that they risked arrest.

Health Minister Greg Hunt made a last ditch plea for people not to attend, asking them to instead use social media platforms or arrange a silent vigil outside their homes.

"Don't. You could take somebody's life. It's as simple as that," Hunt told Sky News.

Australia has recorded about 15,000 cases of the novel coronavirus and 167 deaths, although authorities have warned people could die after the spike in cases

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