Hastings District Council is defending its decision to intercept Olympic torch bearer – and Kiwi athletics hero – Peter Snell, as he relayed the flame down Heretaunga Street yesterday without a fire permit.

Head of council’s resource management, Mike McGuire, said dousing the Olympic flame on its only New Zealand leg was a difficult but considered decision. “We’re in a restricted fire season, and it would be grossly negligent to make an exception while the risk of fire is still extreme on the plains,” he said.

He confirmed Beijing’s Olympic Committee had been fined $20,000, in addition to costs to extinguish the fire.

The controversial incident comes on the eve of the Dalai Lama’s inaugural visit to the city, where it’s expected he and his regents will put further heat on councillor Kevin Watkins to end Hastings’ 30-year relationship with Chinese sister-city Guilin.

Speaking to BayBuzz, Mr Watkins said he strongly disapproved of yesterday’s action, describing it as “motivated and shameful”.

“This was an unprecedented act of civic cowardice,” he said. “Council staff have bowed to public pro-Tibetan sentiment, have defamed the Beijing Olympics and sandbagged our proud fellowship with Guilin.”

[BayBuzz have exclusive reporting rights to the interview between councillor Watkins and His Holiness, which we hope to bring to you on Monday].

Mark

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