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Maori flag flies over Waitangi

Published: 4:10PM Friday February 06, 2004

For the first time ever the Maori sovereignty flag has flown higher than the official New Zealand flag at Waitangi.

A young Northland Maori activist climbed a 40-metre monkey puzzle tree on the Waitangi treaty grounds on Friday afternoon and fixed the black and red tino rangitiratanga flag to the top, well above the nearby naval flagstaff.

He climbed down to tumultuous applause and a triumphant haka.

Shane Jones, a founder of the Far North protest movement in the 1970s, says it was an awesome feat in the style of the old chiefs.

Jones says in the old days dissenters like Hone Heke would fly the British flag upside down or fly a pair of dungarees from the flagpole in protest.

Violence had erupted earlier on Waitangi Day at the treaty grounds in Northland.

An angry mob wanting to fly the Maori sovereignty flag clashed with police guarding the flagstaff on the treaty grounds, and the confrontation quickly escalated from insults to blows.

Maori police were called traitors for standing firm as the thin blue line was pushed to breaking point by protestors trying to get to the flagstaff.

Other protestors joined the crush and police eventually arresting two men for disorderly conduct.

Unable to tie their flag to the mast, the protestors then did the next best thing, scaling the giant tree to unfurl their statement.

The police and the Waitangi Trust supported the officers' actions.

The day began without any protests. The Prime Minister opted to view commemorations from the deck of the waka Te Aurere, and it was all smiles as Helen Clark did her walk-about.

But that was a rare moment of peace for the government.

After the ministers had gone, the full fury of the controversial foreshore and seabed policy was demonstrated in graphic fashion.

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