A Victorian Muslim leader has labelled an anti-Islam rally at Bendigo as a sad day for the nation, as police brace for potential clashes between rival protesters.
Hundreds of police are currently in place in the central Victorian city, with pro-diversity and anti-Islam rallies due to take place this afternoon over a proposal to build a mosque in the area.
Anti-racism group the Bendigo Action Coalition will start their rally first, before the United Patriots Front (UPF) kicks off their protest later on Saturday
One man has reportedly already been removed by police at the rally.
— The Australian (@australian) October 10, 2015
Islamic Council of Victoria secretary Kuranda Seyit said it was disappointing to see another far-right protest targeted at Islam.
"It's a sad day for so many Australians to see ... Australians holding the Australian flag with a racist message," Seyit told The Huffington Post Australia.
"I think that sends a very negative impression and image to people abroad and it makes Australians look like they're racists because although they're a minority, what people see outside is that this is what all Australians think.
"What's much more depressing is that decent hardworking Australians who are trying to make the best of their lives here in Australia are feeling isolated and that they're not wanted in this country."
These protests by United Patriots Front, this bigotry, this hate, this division is not in any way what #Australia stands for.October 10, 2015
Seyit told HuffPost Australia getting through to far-right groups was like "banging your head against a brick wall".
"The people of Bendigo have to deal with this issue when they have no problem at all, it's the outsiders coming to Bendigo and creating problems. They're trying to create more division in our society."
Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane said police presence at the rally would be a major operation.
"There are those on the far left and the far right who will come I've got no doubt, with no intention other than to commit violent acts against each other," Assistant Commissioner Leane told the ABC.
Seyit urged more meetings between far-right members and Muslims to help stop future protests at places like Bendigo.
"We should talk and maybe invite them to a barbecue or a dialogue or an event which we can meet and share and talk," he said.
Victoria's Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton has warned the state's reputation for warmth and generosity is at risk from the show of prejudice, while Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews met with with diversity and multiculturalism advocates in Bendigo on Friday.
The last big protest against the mosque in Bendigo, on August 29, resulted in clashes between activists.
UPF has been contacted for comment.Suggest a correction