About 100 demonstrators staged a noisy protest against US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, dubbing her a war criminal, when she held talks with New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark in Auckland yesterday.
Some wore orange boiler suits like those worn by prisoners at the US base Guantanomo Bay in Cuba and carried banners reading “USA a terrorist state” and saying Rice was wanted for war crimes, Radio New Zealand reported.
University student bodies had earlier challenged their members to make a citizen’s arrest on Rice so that she could be charged with war crimes.
Clark cited the demonstration when the pair were questioned by reporters about China’s human rights record and the coming Olympics at a brief news conference.
“In our countries we are used to having dissent expressed in a way in which it is peaceful,” she said, according to the New Zealand Herald Web site. “If it goes over that boundary then there’s always a response, but you would have noticed today that we conducted our talks amongst the backdrop of a rather noisy crowd.”
Clark said Chinese authorities should deal with any protests with a “measured response” and Rice agreed, saying China should be showcasing not only the Olympics but also “openness and tolerance.” Rice said security would be tight but should not be used “as a cover to try and deal with dissent.”
Meanwhile, Rice said joint efforts to return democracy to Fiji, stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction and promote free trade must take precedence over New Zealand’s ban on nuclear-powered vessels and those carrying atomic arms.
Since 1985, US warships have been denied entry into New Zealand ports because the Pentagon refuses to declare if they are carrying nuclear weapons and, as a result, New Zealand has been effectively dropped from a joint security treaty with the US and Australia.
Joint military training exercises between the US and New Zealand have also been suspended since then.
Despite attempts to put the contentious issue behind them, New Zealand’s 23-year-old “nuclear free” status continues to hamper joint military activities with the US. Rice said outstanding issues should be resolved, although she offered no thoughts on how to do so.
“This is a very broad and deepening relationship and it is going to continue to be so,” Rice told reporters at a joint news conference with New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters. “It is by no means a relationship that is somehow harnessed to or constrained by the past.”
Rice is just the second secretary of state to visit New Zealand in the past nine years. Although officials have called the dispute a “relic” and the country’s prime minister has cordial relations with US President George W. Bush, the nuclear issue continues to be problematic.
Rice said “the relationship is not stuck in the past” and said there have been “a lot of changes in the world since that time.”
“If there are remaining issues to be addressed then I think we ought to find a way to address them, because the relationship between New Zealand and the US is such a beneficial one,” she added.
Yet, neither she nor Peters spoke to how that might be achieved.
Instead, they pointed to a broad array of shared interests and pro-jects, particularly in stopping the transport of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons on the high seas and engagement with the island nations of the South Pacific, especially Fiji, where a military government has been in place since a December 2006 coup.