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PM's apology to China "craven, gutless"

Published: 9:28AM Tuesday June 22, 2010 Source: ONE News/NZPA

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says he has no regrets about protesting with a Tibetan flag in front of parliament, calling the Prime Minister's apology to the Chinese delegation "craven and gutless".

Norman was pushed by Chinese officials on Friday when Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping arrived at parliament. The guards tried to put an umbrella over him to hide a Tibetan flag he was waving.

It was pulled from his hands, although he managed to retrieve it and accused the Chinese of trying to suppress freedom of speech in New Zealand.

Prime Minister John Key apologised yesterday to the Chinese delegation for the incident and failure to provide proper security for the vice-president.

But Norman has come out and accused Key of making a "degrading" apology and called on him to stand up for democracy and free speech.

"I'm embarrassed for the Prime Minister - I mean it's craven and gutless the Prime Minister of New Zealand would apologise to the Chinese government - a totalitarian regime - because we have free speech in New Zealand," he told TVNZ's Breakfast programme .

"He apologised because we excercised free speech. Murray McCully says free speech is fine as long as you don't offend people. Well showing the Tibetan flag offends the Chinese delegation. If you can't offend people then you don't have free speech. So actually he was apologising for having free speech - that's what he was apologising for," he said.

Norman has taken the issue up with the police and parliament's Speaker, Lockwood Smith.

"The key thing for me is that the speaker and the New Zealand police get complete control of the forecourt rather than the Chinese security guards - the Chinese government shouldn't be in control of the forecourt of New Zealand," he said.

The Greens' co-leader says that while it is alright for New Zealand to have an economic and diplomatic relationship with China, "we shouldn't give away our dignity and our basic freedoms and rights to do that".

"We have a trade imbalance with China, we buy more from China than we sell to China, so we already have an economic and diplomatic relationship - we have to have.

"But we shouldn't give up our fundamental rights to have that relationship, we shouldn't have to be gagged while the delegation is in the country."

Meanwhile, Key says he intends to ask for a review security procedures and protocols at parliament.

"It's my intention, when I return to New Zealand, to take the matter up with Diplomatic Protection, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and with the Speaker's office because I think it's unacceptable that a dignitary of that level can't enter the building without their integrity being compromised," he said.