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Maori protester smashes America’s Cup with sledgehammer

March 14, 1997

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) _ A Maori activist smashed the America’s Cup today at the boating club where the coveted yachting prize was on display, crushing the 125-year-old silver trophy flat with a sledgehammer.

A Maori group claimed responsibility for the attack, which horrified the yachting world, and said more violence would follow until whites end the ``illegal occupation of New Zealand.″

The 27-year-old attacker, whose name was not released, walked into the clubhouse and asked to see the cup, which is displayed in a glass case, said John Heise, commodore of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.

The man pulled a short-handled sledgehammer from a bag and swung repeatedly at the case, battering the trophy and trying futilely to pull it from the broken cabinet, Heise said.

The ``Maori gentleman″ was ``in a frenzy″ and chanting in the Maori language during the onslaught, Heise said.

``The cup has been very, very badly beaten up,″ he said.

Workers grabbed the man, who was cut by broken glass. The man tore off his jacket and shirt to reveal a T-shirt that police said bore Maori sovereignty slogans.

A group calling itself the Tino Rangitiratanga Liberation Organization claimed responsibility in faxes sent to Maori news media. The group is said to have only seven members.

``The America’s Cup stands for everything my client’s organization despises. He believes he had a moral right to do exactly as he did,″ said Lorraine Smith, who said she was the attacker’s lawyer.

The man was arrested and being questioned by investigators, police spokeswoman Joanne Gibbs said. He was expected to be charged Saturday with criminal damage and faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

Police said the man was a student from Manurewa, Auckland’s poorest neighborhood.

The Maori, believed to be of Polynesian descent, make up about 15 percent of New Zealand’s 3.6 million people.

The America’s Cup syndicate and Auckland city planners have plans to rebuild the city’s waterfront _ a site where three Maori tribes have overlapping claims to property and fishing rights. Some Maori object to plans to dredge the harbor and marina channels, saying the muck will harm their fishing grounds.

These challenges are in an early stage of negotiation, with the Maori asserting their rights under Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840 by the Maori and the English colonizers, which recognized their traditional land rights.

Danny Tumahi, spokesman for the Ngati Whatua tribe that lives in the Auckland waterfront area, said the vandal was not known to his group. Nevertheless, he apologized for the attack.

``We don’t understand such things. We are very sorry about what happened here,″ he said.

The attack flattened the center of the 3-foot-high silver cup, Heise said. He said the trophy’s English makers would have to determine whether it could be rebuilt, but New Zealand’s National Radio said the trophy was all but destroyed.

The English manufacturer, Gerrards, apparently still has the original drawings of the trophy, which was made about 1850.

Team New Zealand became only the second foreign crew in 144 years to take the America’s Cup away from the United States when ``Black Magic″ beat Dennis Conner’s crew in 1995.

The New York Yacht Club, based in New York and Newport, R.I., held the cup for 132 years until 1983, when Allan Bond won it for Australia.

New York Yacht Club Vice Commodore George Isdale said, ``We’re just deeply dismayed. We are extremely sorry for the Royal Yacht Squadron, Commodore Heise and the New Zealand people.″

Yachting is followed passionately throughout New Zealand, and particularly in Auckland, which boasts it has more yachts per capita than any city in the world.

Auckland, known as ``the city of sails,″ is to host New Zealand’s defense of the cup from October 1999 through March 2000.

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