Waitangi Day celebrations have passed peacefully as the New Zealand government seeks to appease Maori fears about the partial sale of state assets.
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On Monday, a ceremony at the marae at the treaty grounds in Paihia, Bay of Islands, was largely a peaceful affair after Prime Minister John Key was forced to cut short his trip to Te Tii Marae on Sunday when he was drowned out by protesters.
At a Waitangi Day breakfast meeting, Key tried to reassure Maori leaders that the obligations in the Treaty of Waitangi would be met.
The government has said certain laws would need to be changed to accommodate private shareholders when part of the state assets – Mighty River Power, Genesis Energy, Meridian Energy and Solid Energy – were sold. The new owners would not bound by the treaty.
Up to 60 iwi leaders told Mr Key the laws relating to the treaty must remain.
He said would remain in some form.
“The government has no intention of diluting or walking away from treaty obligations.”
Meanwhile, Key said he would be disappointed if Waitangi Day celebrations at Te Tii Marae were stopped, following comments that politicians may no longer be welcome because of the protests they attract.
Maori activist Titewhai Harawira said the timing of the announcement of possible changes to the State Owned Enterprises Act and cuts to Te Puni Kokiri, the Ministry of Maori Development, inflamed the protest on Sunday.
“If the government had taken the time to meet with the people before making that announcement maybe the protests would not have happened,” she said.
On Waitangi Day about 200 protesters tried to fly the Maori flag – Tino Rangatiratanga – on the flagpole at the treaty grounds, but were stopped by Maori wardens.
A compromise was reached when the protesters – venting their anger about the asset sales and proposed offshore oil drilling – were allowed to touch the pole in a symbolic gesture.