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New Zealanders brace for riots as rugby team prepares to go to S. Africa

As summer fades in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand is bracing itself for a season of violent protest and civil disturbance. This comes in the wake of a bitterly controversial decision to send the national rugby team on a playing tour of South Africa sometime in late July.

Groups here that oppose apartheid, South Africa's policy of strict racial separation, have pledged to stop the tour. Police commanders in the largest cities have been told to prepare contingency plans for major riots.

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Confrontations began last week, when the New Zealand Rugby Football Union council announced that the tour would go ahead. Police barricaded the Wellington hotel where the council later met for its annual meeting. The hotel staff went on strike in protest. A rugby club in Christchurch suffered an arson attempt, and goalposts were cut down on a playing field in Dunedin.

Prime Minister David Lange, an outspoken critic of apartheid, has said the tour would do New Zealand great damage and ``for that reason must not proceed.'' But he has admitted the government cannot stop the tour.

In making its decision, the Football council said it rejected the linkage of politics and sport. It said the tour was in the best interests of rubgy, the national sport.

The anti-apartheid movement here has designated May 3 the first day of nationwide protest. Lange has publicly called for ``peaceful protest'' against the decision to go ahead with the tour.

Yet many New Zealanders fear the next few months will see worse civil disturbances than those of 1981 when the South African rugby team came here for a tour.

Then, an estimated 275,000 New Zealanders took to the streets in protest. Police charged on the demonstrating crowds with batons for the first time in 30 years and nearly 2000 people were arrested.

Australian Prime Minister Robert Hawke has said that he might deny the New Zealand team transit facilities when it flies to South Africa.

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