Riots rock Dunedin

BY MICHELLE SUTTON
Last updated 05:00 14/09/2009

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Police had to call for backup supplies of pepper spray to subdue rioting which rocked Dunedin for two nights and led to the arrest of about 70 people at the weekend.

Mayhem and violence spilled into the the city's student area on both Friday and Saturday nights after Canterbury University students' Undie 500 car rally hit town.

The event, organised by Canterbury engineering students, involves a pub crawl from Christchurch to Dunedin, in cars worth under $500.

However, police said yesterday Canterbury students were responsible for only a small number of the problems.

Facing off against a mob of about 600 people in North Dunedin's Castle St area on Saturday, police in riot gear used pepper spray to subdue and disperse them.

In a repeat of chaos on Friday night, students lit fires and pelted police with bottles.

Police arrested between 50 and 60 people, following on from 20 arrests on Friday night.

They would appear in the Dunedin District Court on Thursday and Friday, with no hope of diversion, police said.

Sergeant Matt Scoles, of the Dunedin police, said about 80 per cent of those arrested were from Otago University, while 10 per cent were Canterbury University students and the remaining 10 per cent were hangers-on. Most arrests were for disorderly behaviour, liquor-ban breaches and obstruction.

There were no reports of injuries, Scoles said.

Inspector Dave Campbell said the crowd advanced on police on Saturday night, "challenging the police line", after officers tried to grab a man.

"Many students were pepper-sprayed and officers had to call for more supplies as some had emptied their canisters on those students," Campbell said.

Despite promises of better behaviour from students after trouble in previous years, "nothing has changed".

Carl Shrimpton, president of rally organiser Ensoc (the Canterbury University Engineering Society), said he understood the problems were caused by Otago students, rather than Undie 500 participants.

He had warned rally participants to avoid the streets.

"The Undie 500 is used as an excuse [for the problems] and it shows the culture down here [in Dunedin]," Shrimpton said. He was pleased with the actions of the 600 Undie 500 participants.

However, the behaviour of Otago students was out of Ensoc's control, he said.

"There's obviously an underlying culture down here that's not for us to repair. I would be looking for everyone involved to get together and try to fix it."

Pleas for sensible behaviour from Otago University, police and Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin were again ignored, with the third consecutive year of chaos on North Dunedin's streets.

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A briefing involving the Dunedin City Council, Otago University and police would be held within the next two weeks.

However, Shrimpton rejected calls by Chin and Dunedin North MP Pete Hodgson to ban the Undie 500 from Dunedin.

"I think it's a bit shortsighted to try to blame the Undie 500 charity drive. Last year we didn't run, but there were still problems," Shrimpton said. "The event, I believe, would go underground, and that's something that needs to be considered seriously."

Last year the Undie 500 was cancelled, but an unsanctioned event was held, leading to 30 arrests.

Otago University Students' Association president Edwin Darlow believed Chin was "sticking his head in the sand" over the issue.

"The issue here is not about supporting or opposing the Undie 500, because at the end of the day we can't stop people coming to Dunedin," he said. "The issue here is how the city can best manage the situation once those people are here."

The association and the Canterbury engineering students had tried to organise events, including a Feelers concert for the students, but the council had blocked them, Darlow said.

"So that people, instead of being in a managed situation, would be out on the street instead, which I simply cannot comprehend.

"Simply saying `We don't want you to come' is not going to make the problem go away."

Darlow also questioned student behaviour.

"Anyone who gets a kick out of throwing a glass bottle at people [is] in need of some serious help as far as I'm concerned."

- With NZPA

- The Press

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