Police warn of action on protests

New South Wales police have vowed to hunt down the perpetrators of the disruption to today's opening leg of Rally Australia - and issued a stern warning about the potential repercussions of further protests

Police warn of action on protests

Stages six and 11 were cancelled today after rocks were thrown at the course opening car and the stage was blocked when protesters against the event pulled a fence across the road.

Mikko Hirvonen was first on the scene in SS6, but the Finn drove straight through the fence. The stage was stopped by marshals at the next radio communication point. Stage 11, a repeat of that test, was cancelled to allow the police investigation to get underway.

Superintendent Michael Kenny said: "The protesters involved in this rock throwing incident have shown total disregard for the safety of the competitors and officials involved in today's stage of the event. Their behaviour had the potential to seriously injure or kill somebody.

"I will make no apology for coming down hard on anybody considering radical action. Protesters who abide by the law have nothing to fear, however any action that is unlawful will not be tolerated nor will any action which endangers people's safety. Police will use the full force of the law to ensure the safety of everyone involved in this event."

Throughout the day, the police have deployed every available resource to what is known as Operation Palisade. Numerous local area commands have been joined by the Public Order and Riot Squad and PolAir, the police helicopter.

All of the leading drivers have been affected by the protesters, with championship leader Mikko Hirvonen talking of being blocked on the road sections.

"We come to a junction and a car will just pull out in front of us," he said. "Then they drive really slowly, like 10km/h. When there's a broken white line and I try to pull out to overtake, they move to the side and don't let us pass. Sebastien [Loeb] came behind, but they blocked him as well. What can we do? We are here to drive, we have to do our job."

Stobart Ford driver Matthew Wilson admitted there was intimidation from the crowds.

"When we were coming down to stage six, there were about 50 of them shouting at us and telling us to go home," he said. "It's not nice and it is pretty intimidating.

"It's in the back of your mind that these people don't want us here and they might be prepared to go a bit further to try and get rid of us. It's tough. Maybe it's not the most sensible decision to bring us to this part of the world, but that wasn't our decision."

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