New Zealand's parliament passed a law yesterday making its coastline public property -- a move protested vigorously by indigenous Maori who claim a 160-year-old treaty puts much of the coast under their control.
Acting Prime Minister Michael Cullen told parliament the law was about the government "asserting clear ownership" of the 18,700km coastal strip on behalf of all New Zealanders.
"There will be disappointment among Maori at the passing of this bill," but they "do not own the foreshore and seabed," he said.
The government says the legislation protects public access to beaches, while granting Maori "customary use" of their ancestral areas on the coast, such as fishing and gathering shellfish.
The law nationalizing New Zealand's coastline passed in a 66 to 53 vote, after 18 months of anger vented by opponents who say the move steals land from the Maori. In May, more than 20,000 protesters marched to parliament to denounce the legislation.
Maori say the law contravenes the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, which made the indigenous people into citizens under British rule, and guaranteed their rights to their lands, forests, fisheries, culture and language. Some tribes say the new law will block their plans to set up lucrative fish-farming ventures along parts of the coast.