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Clark on Christchurch protest

Labour
2000 web siteLabour leader Helen Clark said today that last night's incident in Christchurch, in connection with the visit of the Chinese President, raised broader issues about how a democratic nation like New Zealand relates to nations with autocratic political systems.

"New Zealanders cherish their rights to freedom of speech. There can be no question that the demonstration which was mounted in Christchurch last night was in full accordance with our traditions, rights, and liberties.

"It is certainly not acceptable for the government to direct the police to deal in a particular way with people when they are exercising those rights.

"The fact that Chinese officials took exception to the demonstration of course creates difficulties for the host government. But the host government has a choice: to uphold the rights of its own citizens, or to be seen to compromise those rights to accommodate visitors.

"In the circumstances, the abandonment of the State dinner was probably the best option. The fact that months of planning had gone into it as New Zealand Government spokespeople now claim is irrelevant.

"The New Zealand Government is well aware of Chinese sensitivity to protests about Tibet. Given that, better planning for the visit could have seen the demonstration placed at a greater distance from the venue, as indeed demonstrations on the same theme were in Auckland. The better management of the issue in Auckland meant that Mr Jiang Zemin's schedule was able to proceed as planned and without incident, Helen Clark said.

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