Violence forces NZ to scrap Waitangi ceremony

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The Independent Online


The New Zealand government yesterday scrapped the annual national-day celebrations at Waitangi after violent demonstrations by Maori extremists this year. The 6 February celebration, a public holiday, is supposed to mark the coming together of Maoris and Europeans, who signed the Treaty of Waitangi, the nation's founding document, in 1840.

Chiefs of 46 Maori tribes signed the treaty, which ceded sovereignty to Queen Victoria in return for guaranteed "full, exclusive and undisturbed" possession of their lands. In recent years militant Maoris, campaigning under the slogan "The treaty is a fraud", have mounted increasingly angry protests at Waitangi Day celebrations, demanding return of land confiscated over the past 150 years. In 1990 a demonstrator threw a black T-shirt at the Queen, who was attending the celebrations during a royal tour.

At this year's ceremonies protesters tried to set fire to the Treaty House, the country's most historic building, spat at the Governor-General, Dame Catherine Tizard, and trampled the New Zealand flag. The celebrations were terminated when protesters ran up a Maori independence flag and police told the Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, they could not guarantee his safety.

Yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister, Don McKinnon, said next year's celebrations would be held under strict security at Government House in Wellington and be barred to protesters.

The announcement drew claims that the government had caved in to Maori radicals. "The government has shown gutlessness and has surrendered to a few spitting, flag-stomping thugs at Waitangi by shifting the ceremony to the security of the Governor-General's mansion," said Mike Moore, a former Labour prime minister.

A Maori MP, Tau Henare, said: "The event has mana, the event has spirituality. The treaty was signed at Waitangi. Waitangi Day should be at Waitangi." Pita Parnone, of the Tai Tokerau tribe, which hosts the Waitangi celebrations, said the tribe wanted government representatives there in February so that it could apologise for this year's demonstrations. "I thought the government would have the steel to return, what with its ongoing talk of partnership with the Maoris."

The announcement came 10 days before the Queen, who arrives in here on Monday, is due to sign legislation giving land and cash compensation to the Tainui tribe for land confiscated by the Crown in 1865. The Bill includes, for the first time, a formal apology to Maoris.