15 Jul 2008

More pilgrims abscond

7:34 pm on 15 July 2008

Four more Indian pilgrims bound for World Youth Day in Sydney have absconded in Auckland, making the total number missing 39 - most of them young men.

The Department of Labour says the missing 39 are from a group of 220 pilgrims from the state of Punjab who arrived in Auckland a week ago en route to Australia.

The department says the pilgrims disappeared on Monday night from homes where they were billeted. All but one left their luggage behind. They had been issued with one-month visitor permits.

The rest of the party headed to Sydney on various flights on Tuesday evening.

Earlier, Auckland Justice of the Peace Daljit Singh said at least 12 of those missing had paid the equivalent of $15,000 to agents in India, who told them they could enter New Zealand with the group and stay on. He understood more members of the group would try to abscond in Sydney.

Meanwhile, a federal court in Sydney has struck down a contentious New South Wales law that made it illegal to annoy pilgrims gathered in Australia for Pope Benedict's visit and the Catholic youth festival, World Youth Day.

The court called the regulation a vague and extensive limit to the freedom of speech.

The No To Pope Coalition challenged the law, which would have allowed police to arrest or fine protesters up to $NZ7000.