SYDNEY -- Violence spilled into a second night Monday as scores of youths drove through predominantly white suburbs of Sydney, smashing windows of cars, homes, and stores, and raising fears of spreading racial unrest.
Prime Minister John Howard called the violence ''sickening," but denied it was rooted in racism. Arab community leaders said the unrest would heighten racial tensions.
On Sunday, about 5,000 white men, many of them drunk, targeted people believed to be of Arab or Middle Eastern descent on Cronulla Beach, after rumors spread that Lebanese youths assaulted two lifeguards this month.
Police, who had stepped up patrols on the beach after learning of cellphone text messages urging people to retaliate for the attack on the lifeguards, fought back with batons and pepper spray.
Young men of Arab descent struck back in several Sydney suburbs Sunday, fighting with police for hours and smashing dozens of cars with sticks and bats, police said. They said 31 people were injured, including a white man who was allegedly stabbed in the back, and 16 arrested.
Police spokesman Paul Bugden said he did not have descriptions of those involved in last night's rampage, as carloads of youths tore through the suburbs, attacking vehicles and throwing bottles through windows. While only one person was reported injured and six arrested, there appeared to be more damage to cars and stores than on Sunday.
Television images of Sunday's riot shocked Australians, who pride themselves on tolerance and credit an influx of immigrants with helping build up the country after World War II.
Tensions between youths of Arabic and Middle Eastern descent and white Australians have been rising in recent years, fueled by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and deadly bombings on Bali that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
Many Muslims also were angered over Howard's decision to contribute troops to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, Keysar Trad, said the violence was ''bound to happen" following angry calls to radio talk shows after the attack on the lifeguards. Police have denied the assault on the lifeguards was racially motivated.
The unrest recalled three weeks of rioting in France that began in the suburbs of Paris on Oct. 27 and spread nationwide, baring frustration in communities with high immigrant and Muslim populations.
Witnesses to yesterday's attacks said some youths involved were Middle Eastern or Arabic in appearance and others wore ski masks. Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported that police said men of Middle Eastern appearance were involved.
Howard defended Australia's policy of tolerance, noting that the nation has successfully absorbed millions of foreigners. ''I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country," he said.
His comments were aimed at immigrants and their families. Howard has come under criticism for refusing to apologize for past government abuses of Aborigines, Australia's poorest and least educated minority group.
Morris Iemma, premier of New South Wales state, said police would find those behind the violence. ''Let's be very clear, the police will be unrelenting in their fight against these thugs and hooligans," he said.
About 300 people of Arab descent demonstrated against Sunday's attack outside one of Sydney's largest mosques, amid tight security.