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Celebrations marred by protest

Published: 6:23PM Wednesday February 06, 2002

Protest has once again marred the Prime Minister's return to Waitangi - Helen Clark was jostled and harried outside Wednesday morning's dawn service.

But despite the disruption, most claim the crown's return to Waitangi to celebrate New Zealand's national day was a success.

Tino Rangatiratanga or the Maori sovereignty movement kept a low profile until Wednesday afternoon when around 200 people marched on the treaty ground and made a beeline for the flagpole.

Police fears centred on an attempt to scale the pole and cut down the flags, instead they only had to endure a fierce haka.

The march followed a tense dawn service at the nearby whare runanga.

The prime minister must have felt a sense of deja-vu as once more her right to speak was challenged. But this time the challenge carried little weight and Clark was able to continue her message.

"I thought the prayer service went well, apart from the interjections and I have to say publicly that they were not Ngapuhi," said Ngaphuhi leader Sonny Tau.

The Waitangi karakia is usually free of protest disruption it is supposed to be a prayer service without political overtones.

But the prime minister was forced into a hasty departure as protestors, mostly pakeha, tried to get up close and personal.

And while many here see the crown's return here as a triumph for Maori and Pakeha others were not convinced.

Soon after the prime minister's departure the focus turned fully onto Waitangi commemorations free from poltical distractions.

Meanwhile at the other end of the country celebrations were on a smaller scale, at Otakou marae on the Otago peninsula.

A crowd of around 300 attended the Ngai Tahu-led ceremonies which were followed by workshops and discussions between crown and iwi.

Participants were quick to contrast their day with the far north.

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