Police have been forced to use capsicum spray to quell crowds and break up tense encounters between the various groups, with anti-racism protesters labelling the others fascists and Nazis.

Hundreds of protesters have clashed with police in Melbourne during a Reclaim Australia rally organised by right-wing nationalists.

According to authorities, the biggest clash happened in the southern coastal city of Melbourne, where more than 50 supporters of Reclaim Australia joined some 200 right-wing supporters of the United Patriots Front to demand a stop to the growth of Islam in Australia.

Local newspaper The Age reported that the group of around 100 people had only just begun its rally at 11 a.m. (GMT0200) when the counter-demonstrators attempted to breach police lines. Police say organisers were pulled aside and warned their behaviour was close to crossing the line into inciting hatred, a criminal offence.

ANTI-RACISM protesters have outnumbered their opposition ahead of Reclaim Australia protests in Melbourne.

United Patriots Front said on its website it is not racist but wants to uphold “Australian values”.

More than a dozen Reclaim Australia rallies are scheduled around the country on Sunday, including one at which a member of Abbott’s government will speak in Queensland state.

Merlino also said a small number of people resorted to violence, while the vast majority of protesters were peaceful. Coalition Against Racism and Fascism spokeswoman Vashti Kenway said anti-racism groups had mobilised to send a message that their rivals’ views are not accepted. Rallies are also planned by United Against Islamophobia and Rally Against Racism groups.

“””(Reclaim) is people like myself saying to our politicians I’m sick and exhausted of where you have us headed”, she said on her official Facebook page. Victorian Greens acting leader Nina Springle said it was regrettable there was a fringe element that wanted to undermine multicultural harmony.