3 Nov 2017

Six arrests in Otara brawl involving 200 people

12:04 pm on 3 November 2017

Workers in Otara's town centre are expecting more violence on the streets tonight.

Last night six people were arrested, after 200 Samoan and Tongan rugby league supporters clashed in a carpark in Otara.

A police officer at a public event

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Businesses that border the carpark here say they will probably close early today.

They say staff and locals were frightened to get into their cars because of yesterday's violence.

There was a heavy police presence last night.

League fans started to congregate at about 6pm.

Locals say it was a jubilent mood at first with the honking of horns and waving of flags but the mood slowly turned sour as hundreds more arrived, many looking for a fight.

The brawl came after days of heightened tension between Samoan and Tongan rugby league fans, ahead of their second round World Cup clash in Hamilton on Saturday.

Police said that some of the people that were involved in the brawl were armed with sticks and poles, and one person had a machete.

"It was major disorder", said Superintendent Sandra Manderson, the police national commander for major sporting events.

"Some people in the crowd were carrying poles and sticks... I believe there was also a machete taken off someone."

Six people were arrested for disorderly behaviour at about 10pm.

The Samoa and Tonga teams, New Zealand government ministers and police have all appealed for calm after a series of brawls. Police have increased their presence in parts of South Auckland.

Videos posted to Facebook earlier this week showed scuffles breaking out in Ōtāhuhu between supporters holding Samoan and Tongan flags. Four Tongan fans were arrested earlier this week in in Ōtāhuhu and another fight took place on Wednesday night.

Superintendent Manderson said gatherings were being organised over Facebook and social media - some of them simply to show support, such a welcome for the Tonga team at Auckland Airport where 4000 people turned up.

"They were supporting their team.

"The only thing is they're tending to block the roads, which is not okay."

Police were concerned about safety in the lead up to Saturday's match.

"We are worried about [fans'] behaviour on the road... blocking the road, standing on vehicles car-surfing.

"That's of concern to us because we want people to be safe."

Police were meeting daily with church and community leaders and were also engaged with their own Samoan and Tongan police officers, she said.

"We've just had an outstandingly successful British and Irish Lions Tour... there was over 25,000 people came to this country... the people that came over were outstanding, the fans behaved properly. This is not happening here."

Tongan league fans show their support.

Tongan league fans show their support. Photo: NRL Photos

Minister for Pacific Peoples and Mangere MP Aupito William Sio said he wasn't impressed with people brawling on the streets of Ōtāhuhu.

"I don't know what it is that these predominantly young men are thinking… but it has to stop. They just need to know it's not okay to fight in public like that. And I think they need to think about the shame they cast on themselves and the good name of their families."

He told Morning Report today he suspected the violence was triggered by a when video surfaced of a young man burning a Samoan flag.

But no-one should retaliate over the "silly prank".

"The boy has apologised, his family has apologised. Let's just focus on enjoying the upcoming game."

The minister said he, Ethnic Communities Minister Jenny Salesa and former boxer David Tua have met with both league teams, and have sent out televised appeals for calm.

A Tongan community leader is also working to ease tensions between league fans.

The chair of the Tongan Advisory Council, Melino Maka, said some young men think it's funny to get involved, and he's disappointed in their behaviour.

He said sport is one thing that their community can celebrate, and he hopes people will enjoy the game not ruin it with violence.

Mate Ma'a Tonga has used Facebook to appeal to fans with captain Sika Manu asking them to be respectful.

"We're all from the islands, please keep the peace," he said.

Samoan prop Sam Tagataese called for calm. "From the players' point of view, we call out to both (Samoan and Tongan) fans from both nations to show respect to each other", he told AAP.