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Racist mob bring shame on tennis

RACIST thugs doing Nazi salutes brought shame on Melbourne on the first day of the Australian Open.

A mob of young men of Croatian background intimidated other fans, let off flares and spat on, then slapped, a Sydney Herald-Sun photographer.

The disgraceful display made a mockery of so-called multicultural Melbourne as tennis fans around the world tuned in for the first Grand Slam event of the year.

Police, tennis officials and politicians were red-faced and fuming.

State Premier John Brumby said Australia's reputation as a friendly nation was on the line and called on fans to unite.

The trouble started when eight people were barred from entering the tournament for carrying flares. One flare was let off outside Melbourne Park even before play started.

Teams of security staff were waiting when the front gates opened but some Croatian fans dodged them by running up the stairs while others attempted to hide their faces under hoodies.

Another 11 supporters were ejected from court six, half an hour into Croatian Ivo Karlovic's match against Czech Radek Stepanek. One fan was found carrying two flares.

A local policeman denied security failed. "You must understand people are innovative and they will go to great lengths to smuggle contraband into the particular venue," he said.

He said police assisted security staff in ejecting Karlovic's supporters, who have been banned for the rest of the tournament.

Australian Croatian Community Services committee member Linda Paric, however, blamed the media for portraying Croatians as troublemakers, despite the fact photographs clearly show the Croatian colours on many of the fans.