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Undie 500 could be banned

Published: 6:59AM Monday August 27, 2007 Source: Newstalk ZB

The fate of the Undie 500 student event hangs in the balance, following the weekend riot in Dunedin.

More than 50 students were arrested during the unrest in Castle Street, the night after the annual student rally from Christchurch.

Twenty four were from Canterbury University.

University of Canterbury Students Association president Belinda Bundy says the organisers did everything they could to minimise trouble but a few "idiots" got out of control.

She is trying to arrange a meeting with the Canterbury University vice chancellor on Monday.

Bundy says the university has disciplinary powers which it should use on the arrested students.

She adds that it is a possibility the event will be canned.

Emergency service workers in Dunedin said it was the city's worst trouble for many years.

The cheap car rally takes more than 1,000 Canterbury students south and has sparked major trouble two years in a row.

While no one was badly hurt, students, police officers and firefighters all suffered cuts and bruises.

The trouble began in Castle street, at the heart of the student campus. Fuelled by a day of drinking, students gathered by the hundred and as bottles and cans flew, police responded.

Most of the 52 arrests were for disorderly behaviour, equal numbers of Otago and Canterbury students.

But arrests were not the police priority.

"Our cells are so full we're pretty limited in who we can arrest. We're just taking the serious ones," says Inspector Alister Dickie of Dunedin Police.

Police were called in from as far away as Balclutha, their numbers swelled to around 80.

"This didn't start until the cops turned up. Seriously. I'm not taking the piss," says Paul Pimm, a Canterbury commerce student.

Just as Castle Street was finally calmed, fires erupted behind the police lines.

The first to go up was an Undie 500 van from Christchurch. On one of their busiest night's ever, Dunedin firefighters responded to 73 student fires.

"The potential is for someone to die if they don't stop the stupidity of lighting random fire in backyards," says Jason Hill, Dunedin Station Officer.

But the crowd appeared oblivious to any danger as more couch fires were followed by a blaze threatening a house.

The police were completely outnumbered so their tactic was to contain and disperse.

After two hours it seemed to be working, but only just.

As the action moved several blocks, there were complaints from students that police were over reacting.

"This is just a usual Dunedin Saturday night and then the police come in their riot gear and they just take it way over the top," says Hamish Dobson, an Otago commerce student.

But police claimed restraint in containing some ugly situations.

"No force has been used, no excess force, so I don't know what they're complaining about," says Dickie.

As the big cleanup began on campus on Sunday morning, there was support for the police from the Undie 500's organiser, William Corke.

"We're pretty disappointed. We're completely on the cops' side. We think they were completely right to do everything they did last night," Corke says.

Dunedin's Mayor, Peter Chin, had hoped tougher by-laws would prevent a repeat of last year's trouble.

"It's hugely disappointing. The walk that I have done is a bit like a walk of shame. Despite our efforts it just hasn't worked," says Chin.

He says a lot of work had gone into building a rapport with students and trying to ensure the event was run responsibly.

Chin says he hopes those who go to court this week won't be able to get away with diversion and the people of Dunedin won't want to hear drunkenness being used as an excuse.