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Fire alarm interrupts NZ PM's speech to Labor Congress
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10:32, April 13, 2008

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New Zealand's Labor Party's election year Congress in Wellington on Saturday has to be evacuated following a fire alarm which sounded moments after Prime Minister Helen Clark took to the stage to deliver her keynote address.

More than 600 party members were forced to run the gauntlet of a small but vocal group of protestors as they filed out of Wellington's Town Hall on Saturday afternoon.

The disruption delayed Clark's speech by an hour.

The demonstrators were protesting over last year's police raids under the Terrorism Suppression Act.

Clark defended the government's decision to turn down the Canadian pension fund's bid for a 40 percent stake in Auckland Airport.

Clark has identified asset sales as a key election issue, and said that the Government was right to veto the Auckland Airport share bid.

She said the decision had been "critical" because if it had gone ahead there would not have been any substantial benefits for New Zealand.

She announced that the number of people on the unemployment benefit had dropped to less than 20,000 -- an 88 percent decrease since 1999.

"That is the lowest number since 1979, when our population was around one million smaller than it is today," she told the congress.

"In the past year alone, the number of people receiving the unemployment benefit has fallen by 9811, or 34 percent."

The congress is mainly dealing with election strategy and planning, and Clark told delegates Labor had to win a fourth term so that gains already achieved would be guaranteed in the future.

Source: Xinhua

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