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A Backgrounder On Today's Anti-Racism March

A Backgrounder On Today's Anti-Racism March

By Derek Cheng

When first-generation Chinese New Zealander Tze Ming Mok talked to a National Front member outside the Chinese Embassy in June, she was called a "peasant" and to return to her "third-world country". When she asked why he refused to look at her, he said the sight of her face was disgusting and ugly.

It was this kind of abuse that saw the formation of Multicultural Aotearoa, who has the support of organisations and celebrities including Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association, the Alliance Party and author Elizabeth Knox.

MCA is marching to Parliament today with an expected minimum of 3000 supporters. Although formed in response to National Front plans, spokesperson Ms Mok said the march has a wider objective - to oppose racism and to promote ethnic groups taking part in all levels of society.

The march may converge with a National Front gathering, for which director Kyle Chapman is expecting about 150 people. His rally is for keeping the current national flag as a symbol of New Zealand's colonial heritage. It was originally against Asian immigration, but he said this will be the theme for later nationwide demonstrations.

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Ms Mok hoped the numbers will reflect that the majority of New Zealanders supports cultural diversity. ``The National Front seems to be under the illusion that most New Zealanders, if they were really honest with themselves, would support its views,'' she said.

Pancha Narayanan, president of the New Zealand Federation of Ethnic Councils, is one of three planned speakers at Parliament, saying race relations in New Zealand are not at risk.

``Ethnic groups are happy in this country and their rights are not threatened at all,'' he said. ``New Zealand is a resilient country and this is an opportunity to celebrate our growing multiculturalism.''

Ms Mok said the speakers will address the people of New Zealand. ``We are not interested in acknowledging the National Front,'' she said when asked about a possible confrontation. She condemned the front's immigration policy, which would encourage repatriation of Polynesian and Chinese migrants.

``The things everyone values about New Zealand culture and society can easily be maintained alongside new ideas, new faces and new cultures,'' she said.

Sociology professor Paul Spoonley, from Massey University, agreed. Key institutions such as a religious centre can preserve heritage, but cultures do not need to be separated in other forms of public life, he said. He added cultural exclusion is a ``classic form of apartheid in the sense that it was practised in South Africa''.

While acknowledging the National Front's right to free speech, Ms Mok pointed to the abusive race-based acts of their members. "We would quite happily ignore them if their members didn't intimidate ethnic minorities,'' she said.

She pointed to attacks on Somali youths in June and a National Front press statement targeting Asian businesses in Christchurch: ``... public facilities have been taken over by the foreigners ... They are rubbing it in our faces that they are here ... and have no intention to be part of [the] Kiwi way of life and culture. The National Front are announcing our intention to single out businesses that ... only target Asian customers.''

Though not denying there are racists in the National Front, including skinheads, Mr Chapman said he was against violence and hatred.

``Even though I am not racist, I would die for someone else's right to be racist as long as they don't hurt anyone.'' Any member convicted of a violent crime would be subject to disciplinary measures, he said.

He is hoping for a peaceful demonstration, but expects confrontation. ``When MCA invites the far left and anarchists, they're going to have people who consider violence and chaos to be the way of resolving issues.''

He warned any aggression towards them will be retaliated against: ``We will fight for the right to have our freedom and beliefs. And it doesn't matter how many thousands they get there, it's not going to stop us believing what we're believing.''

Wellington Police inspector of operations Paul Berry said police are taking precautions and will commit a sufficient level of forces. ``When two opposing ideologies meet on Parliament grounds, some conflict may arise,'' he said, adding the two parties may not cross paths.


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