Police have been called to the University of Sydney after a confrontation erupted between students running a food stall to promote the No campaign and supporters of same-sex marriage.
Students from various groups on campus, including the Catholic Society, were holding an informal free food stall on campus at around midday on Thursday when a large crowd of same-sex marriage supporters quickly formed a counter-rally nearby.
Footage from the scene shows heated arguments and clashes between members of the two groups, before a group of about ten police officers arrived at around 12.30pm.
One of the participants of the No campaign event Francis, who declined to give his surname for safety reasons, said between 50 and 70 protesters formed a large crowd in front of their stall and used a megaphone to speak over them, throwing glitter and food products at their placards.
“They started throwing glitter at us, starting taking our own food, the hummus, and threw it on one of our members,” he said.
The original event involved around 25 people from various religious backgrounds who wanted to convey to students one-on-one what the No campaign was about.
“There was nothing offensive, nothing inappropriate. The whole point of the campaign was to say it’s OK to disagree and it’s OK to agree. We are not telling everyone to vote no. Just give people a chance to understand what the No campaign was about.
“It did get unfortunately a bit out of hand,” he said. “We kept encouraging our people to not respond the way they are responding. We are all for free speech and them protesting but to get violent and make threats … It’s a shame we can’t stand on campus and have an opinion.”
He said several people told him they “wished they could stomp on my face because they would find it so satisfying”, while others called him a bigot.
“They weren’t interested in a discussion,” he said. “We packed up and we left, not because pressure from them, because we weren’t looking to make matters worse. The university unfortunately didn’t do too much to make students feel safe.”
He said suggestions by the protesters that members of the stall had been linking same-sex marriage to paedophilia and bestiality were incorrect.
“It was a clear attempt from protesters to demonise all the people there today,” he said.
Police were forced to intervene after one man violently attempted to grab a “It’s Okay to Say No” sign from the hands of a member of the Catholic Society.
The attacker was led away from the protest by police but has not yet been charged.
A NSW Police spokeswoman said no formal arrests are yet to be made: “We attended but there was virtually no action taken.”
A University of Sydney spokeswoman said they were aware of the protest but were yet to determine whether the “participants were student, staff or visitors to the university”.
“The University of Sydney expects that any expression of views on this matter is conducted in a respectful manner,” she said.
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