The riots started at a Sydney beach on Sunday
Two days of racially-motivated rioting on Sydney's beachfront have prompted shock and soul-searching in Australia's press.
Images of brawling youths are splashed across the front pages of all Australian newspapers, with headlines crying "shame", "race warfare" and "blood on the beach".
Many see the fighting between youths of European and Middle Eastern origins in the beach resort of Cronulla as a challenge to Australia's image as a modern and open society at ease with itself.
"A nation's reputation for tolerance has been severely damaged," the Sydney Morning Herald says in its editorial.
"Australia has changed suddenly and inexplicably into an uglier and darker place," the paper adds, and believes Australia cannot carry on as usual.
"Australia is now in a racist cul-de-sac. To progress from here, the whole country needs to stop, examine what has gone wrong in Sydney's beachside suburbs, and find a way to reverse direction."
Writing in Melbourne's The Age, Tony Parkinson sees a "tidal surge of intolerance" threatening the "breezy, open and inclusive" ethos symbolized by Australia's beach culture.
"What is happening could not be more un-Australian," he adds.
There feeling that the hatred on show in Sydney has been simmering under the surface for a long time is widespread.
Brisbane's Courier Mail speaks of a "ticking bomb of racial hatred" which "had to explode".
"Like a long-dormant volcano, the violence erupted with unexpected ferocity, as if some subterranean reservoir of hate could no longer be contained," Sydney's Daily Telegraph, says.
"Some hard lessons need to be learned," the paper warns, stressing the need for Australians to acknowledge the country's multi-cultural nature.
But some agree with Prime Minister John Howard's insistence that the riots have not revealed a fundamental rift in Australian society.
"This is not so much a clash of civilisations but, rather, a series of disputes between some aggressive Australians of Lebanese Muslim background and a group of aggressive (and drunk) Australians of Anglo-Celtic background," Gerard Henderson writes in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Instead, he argues, the violence is a "police matter which should be resolved in the courts".
Sydney's The Australian agrees, and lays most of the blame at the door of the police and the government of the state of New South Wales.
"While this riot does not demonstrate Australia is an ethnically divided society, this is no reason to ignore its lessons", it says.
"At times the police appeared to have lost control of the streets to a drunken mob - yet another mark against the failing government of Premier Morris Iemma."
Most commentators believe both parties to the violence are equally to blame in a complex web of resentment.
"Whether it is young, angry, violent Lebanese men or young, angry, violent Cronulla locals, it makes no difference to me - they are all heading down a dangerous and destructive path," Salam Zreika - a woman of Lebanese origin - writes in The Age.
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