Mayor causes uproar with 'offensive' letter to children

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The Independent Online

A New Zealand mayor known for his colourful views has been accused of "bullying" primary schoolchildren after he fired off a scathing response to letters they wrote urging him to adopt the traditional Maori spelling for their town, Wanganui.

Michael Laws told the Maori children, aged 11 and 12: "There are so many deficiencies of both fact and logic in your letters that I barely know where to start."

He suggested that they sack their teacher and said that he would only take their views seriously when they began addressing the "real issues" affecting New Zealand's indigenous people, "particularly the appalling rate of child abuse and child murder within Maori society".

Mr Laws's outburst follows a debate in the North Island town about changing the spelling of its name to "Whanganui", which means "big harbour" in Maori.

Mr Laws, also a talk radio host, is adamantly opposed to the move, although the final decision rests with New Zealand's Geographic Board, which is expected to rule in a fortnight.

Two years ago, Mr Laws also caused controversy when he offended the country's Tongan population by refusing to lower the municipal flag after the death of the King of Tonga, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, whom he called a "bloated brown slug".

The Mayor has defended himself over the latest row, claiming that the seven girls who wrote to him had been "put up to it" by their teacher, Selwyn Katene. "Do you honestly think that children give a continental about how Wanganui is spelt?" he said yesterday. He tried to defuse the row by inviting the children to afternoon tea.