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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 May, 2004, 03:04 GMT 04:04 UK
Maori march to defend beaches
Maori taking part in the hikoi, or protest walk, arrive at the parliament in Wellington,  5/5/2004
Maori arrive in the capital after their two-week protest walk, or hikoi
About 10,000 mainly Maori protesters have marched through the New Zealand capital against plans to nationalise the country's beaches and seabed.

Indigenous people say such a law would infringe their ancestral rights and customary ownership of seaside land.

The hikoi, or protest walk, arrived in Wellington two weeks after setting out from the top of North Island.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said the march was led by "haters and wreckers", and refused to address the issue.

On Thursday parliament will vote on whether to adopt the Seabed and Foreshore Bill, which puts the coastal areas into state ownership.

Treaty

Maori say the law would strip indigenous tribes of their traditional ownership of the seabed and beaches, and contravene the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, under which the British guaranteed Maori rights to lands, culture and language.

The government says Maori would still have "customary use" of their ancestral areas, but that the law would ensure public access to the beaches.

Ms Clark's political future has been thrown into doubt by the controversy.

Her 62-58 majority in parliament depends on support from two Maori MPs, who oppose the bill.

The two MPs decided to back her in a confidence vote on Tuesday, which was called by the opposition in an attempt to force early elections.

A junior Maori minister, Tariana Turia, last week quit the government in opposition to the policy.

The opposition National Party has pledged to end the government's affirmative action programs and preferential treatment of Maori if they win elections due by September 2005.

At Wednesday's march, 50 Maori warriors led by organiser and academic Pita Sharples performed a haka war dance.

The march went ahead despite gale-force winds blowing away many protesters' banners.

Police said there had been no law and order problems.


SEE ALSO:
Maori anger over NZ shores law
24 Jun 03  |  Asia-Pacific
NZ launches first Maori TV station
28 Mar 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Maori Justice: Keisha's Story
25 Oct 02  |  Correspondent
Timeline: New Zealand
18 Dec 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: New Zealand
05 Nov 03  |  Country profiles


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