Key leaves Waitangi due to protesters

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 13:00 05/02/2012
Lyle McMahon

Hone Harawira's nephew Wikatana Popata was one of those who tried to charge the Prime Minister at Waitangi's Te Tii Marae.

Key reacts to Waitangi protests

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A man knocks on the window of Finance Minster Bill English's car.
CONFIDENT OF SOLUTION: Prime Minister John Key.
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Prime Minister John Key.

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Prime Minister John Key says fear did not drive him from today's Waitangi Day celebrations at Te Tii Marae, adding there was good security in place.

Key and his entourage made a quick retreat from Te Tii Marae after a standoff with protesters, who drowned out his speech with megaphones.

About a dozen sturdy protesters moved forward on Key as he approached the Marae to speak, yelling "we don't want to listen to you".

"At no point did I feel in danger," Key said. "It was a lost opportunity because I wanted to present the Government's perspective on issues that they are debating.

"What we really ended up with was a bunch of people with mega-phones that drowned out any chance of a sensible conversation."

Key said he left early because the crowd could not hear what he was saying.

As protesters advanced on him, plain-clothed police and Maori wardens attempted to hold the angry mob back, but the protesters still squeezed forward.

Key and the other dignitaries made a quick escape with Maori wardens protecting them on either side.

Screams of "Go home National" could be heard as his cars left for the Copthorne Hotel.

During the heated protests, Wi Popata screamed abuse at both the Maori and National Party politicians. With fellow protesters, he called Sharples a "nigger" and told Key to go home.

"We don't want to listen to you, John Key."

After Key had left, Taurua Kingi said he could see the fear in Key's eyes.

"I could see a bit of fear in his eyes because he's never experienced this type of protest. It's very vocal."

He did not lead Key into the Marae as he wanted his visit to be "out in the open".

The local kaumatua said Key should return to speak to those who are angry to ease tensions.

It followed an unsuccessful attempt by about three men to charge at Key as he arrived on the marae this morning for Waitangi Day celebrations. Fairfax photographer Lawrence Smith was one of the people injured in the scuffle. His camera was pushed back into his face, causing a gash to his forehead.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, National MP Steven Joyce and Finance Minister Bill English arrived at the grounds earlier to chants of "Aotearoa is not for sale" from protesters.

About 40 Mana Party supporters were screaming slogans and chants as the politicians arrived at the marae.

A heavy contingent of police and Maori wardens were trying to keep the protesters at bay.

Waitangi Day comes just as anger rises over the Government's plan to sell a stake in the State-owned power companies.

Maori fear a treaty clause is being excluded from asset sale legislation and the Maori Party is threatening to split from its National Party allegiances over the issue.

Key's earlier reassurances that it would be unsustainable to leave out the Treaty clause failed to ease the anger.

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About 100 Mana Party supporters - including unionists, anti-capitalist protesters and socialists - arrived in Paihia yesterday.

Protester Joe Carolan said the group is battling the sale of public assets.

"This attack is about the people in New Zealand. This is not a battle between the Maori and Pakeha, it's between the rich and poor."

Many of the protesters are armed with banners and flags.

Labour leader David Shearer will also visit Te Tii marae this morning.

Maori elders and politicians will hold a dawn ceremony at the Treaty grounds tomorrow.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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