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Construction workers, police clash in Melbourne over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

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Police in Melbourne, Australia, clashed with construction workers on Monday over a coronavirus vaccine requirement. 

Shane Pitton, commissioner of Victoria Police, said in a news conference Tuesday that a crowd of around 2,000 people, predominately men, were involved in a series of confrontations with police for eight hours.

Pitton said that protesters damaged police cars as well as other vehicles. Demonstrators also threw rocks, bottles and flares at police.

In response, officers deployed pepper balls, smoke rounds, foam baton rounds and stinger grenades with rubber pellets.

Pitton called the actions of the crowd "disgraceful."

"Crowds like this are for cowards that seek to hide their identity and conduct other activities, to do other things, that if they're by themselves they wouldn't have the courage to do," Pitton said. "The type of activities committed today by these people today — by these cowards — was disgraceful."

Tuesday's clash was the second day of demonstrations in Melbourne after construction sites were shut down for two weeks because workers' movements were spreading COVID-19, according Reuters.

The news outlet noted that the crowd also consisted of opponents of mandatory vaccinations and those who opposed Victoria's extended lockdown.

The government of Victoria, the state where the city of Melbourne is located, announced last Friday that construction workers will need to show that they have had their first dose of coronavirus vaccine by Thursday at 11:59 p.m. local time. The policy provides for limited medical exemptions.

Pitton said that a reporter was attacked "multiple times" and three police officers had minor injuries. Police conducted 62 arrests, and investigations are still ongoing.

Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, said in a statement that there was "no excuse" for the violence.

"Acts of violence and disruption won't result in one less case of Covid — in fact it only helps the virus to spread," Andrews said. "We know vaccinations are our only ticket out of this pandemic. There is no other way."

Victoria reported 603 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, Reuters noted. Forty-four percent of the state's population is fully vaccinated.

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