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SYDNEY: Thousands of Australians defied coronavirus rules on Tuesday to protest the country’s national day, held on the anniversary of British colonisation of the vast continent that its Indigenous population marks as “Invasion Day”.

Officially recognised as Australia Day, January 26 also sees annual rallies drawing attention to the injustices faced by Indigenous people and calling on the government to change the date of the national holiday.

The celebration of the origins of the modern nation is a time of mourning for Indigenous Australians, who have inhabited the land for 65,000 years and view the arrival of British settlers in 1788 as the beginning of two centuries of pain and suffering.

Thousands of people gathered at a central Sydney park in defiance of police threats of fines and arrests for breaching a 500-person limit on public gatherings, though organisers called off a march through the city that usually follows.

Police said five people were arrested, including one who was charged with assaulting a police officer, but praised the crowds as largely peaceful.

Authorities earlier refused to waive the cap on numbers, despite no new cases being detected in Australia’s biggest city for more than a week.

Chants of “Sovereignty was never ceded” and “No justice, no peace” rang out while others held up placards with slogans including “Not a Date to Celebrate” and “Black Lives Matter”.

“For us it represents cultural genocide. Our families being ripped apart. Years and years of disease and famine. And the intergenerational impacts of that are still being felt today,” Gomeroi man Dylan Booth told AFP.

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