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Black Lives Matter protests mostly peaceful in Australia

Organizers of the Sydney protest got a late reprieve when their appeal against a Friday ruling declaring the rally unauthorized was granted.

Black Lives Matter protests across Australia proceeded mostly peacefully Saturday, as thousands of demonstrators in state capitals honored the memory of George Floyd and protested the deaths of indigenous Australians in custody. 

Organizers of the Sydney protest got a late reprieve when their appeal against a Friday ruling declaring the rally unauthorized was granted. The New South Wales Court of Appeal gave the green light just 12 minutes before the rally was scheduled to start, meaning those taking part could not be arrested.

Up to 1,000 protesters had already gathered in the Town Hall area of downtown Sydney ahead of the decision.

Floyd, a black man, died in handcuffs on May 25 while a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck even after he pleaded for air and stopped moving.

In addition to Australia, protests were held in other countries as well on Saturday, including South Korea and Japan.

In Sydney, there was one early scuffle when police removed a man who appeared to be a counter protester carrying a sign reading, "White Lives, Black Lives, All Lives Matter." 

"If we don't die from the (coronavirus) pandemic, then we will die from police brutality," Sadique, who has a West African background and said he goes by only one name, said in Sydney.

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The rally appeared orderly as police handed out masks to protesters and other officials provided hand sanitizer.

Bob Jones, 75, said it was worth the risk to rally for change despite the state's chief health officer saying the event could help spread the coronavirus.

"If a society is not worth preserving, then what are you doing? You're perpetuating a nonsense," Jones said.

Crowds filled Victoria Square in Adelaide after police gave special permission for the event to proceed despite COVID-19 restrictions. The march through the southern Australian city was held after police Commissioner Grant Stevens approved the rally on Friday.

"This is a unique and extraordinary event. There is a sentiment that suggests people should have a right to protest on significant matters," Stevens said. 

In Brisbane, the Queensland state capital, organizers said about 30,000 people gathered, forcing police to shut down some major downtown streets. The protesters marched from King George Square, across the river to South Brisbane, where they demanded to have Australia's Indigenous flag raised at the police station.

State Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch encouraged Queenslanders to speak out.

"Whether you're talking about the U.S. or right here in Australia, black lives matter," she said. "Black lives matter today. Black lives matter every day."

A Maori group did a traditional haka, or war dance, during the Brisbane protest. The large crowd later marched to a local police precinct, some chanting, "They say justice, we say murder."

On Friday, 2,000 demonstrators gathered in Canberra, the country's capital, to remind Australians that the racial inequality underscored by Floyd's death was not unique to the United States.

"Australians have to understand that what's been going on in the United States has been happening here for a long time," said Matilda House, an elder of the Ngambri-Ngunnawal family group, the original settlers of the Canberra region.

A demonstrator who interrupted House, arguing that the rally's focus should be on "what's happening in the United States" rather than Australia's colonial history, was shouted down in a heated confrontation with several protesters. The demonstrator eventually followed the crowd's advice to leave.

Indigenous Australians make up 2% of the the country's adult population, but 27% of the prison population. They are also the most disadvantaged ethnic minority in Australia and have higher-than-average rates of infant mortality and poor health, as well as shorter life expectancies and lower levels of education and employment than other Australians.

Protesters gathered in South Korea's capital for the second straight day to denounce Floyd's death.

Wearing masks and black shirts, dozens of demonstrators marched through a commercial district in downtown Seoul amid a police escort, carrying signs such as "George Floyd Rest in Peace" and "Koreans for Black Lives Matter."

"I urge the U.S government to stop the violent suppression of (U.S.) protesters and listen to their voices," said Jihoon Shim, one of the rally's organizers. "I also want to urge the South Korean government to show its support for their fight (against racism)."

On Friday, protesters gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to condemn what they described as U.S. police brutality toward demonstrators in America. They also urged South Korea to push for an anti-discrimination law that had been opposed by conservatives for years to address its own problems with discrimination.

In Tokyo, dozens of people gathered in a peaceful protest.

"Even if we are far apart, we learn of everything instantly on social media," Taichi Hirano, one of the organizers, shouted to the crowd gathered outside Tokyo's Shibuya train station. 

"Can we really dismiss it all as irrelevant?" he asked rhetorically, stressing that Japanese are joining others raising their voices against what he called "systematic discrimination."

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Passa reported from Brisbane, Australia. Associated Press journalists John Pye in Brisbane, Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.