N. Zealand MP hails bin Laden as freedom fighter

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An outspoken New Zealand Maori politician has praised slain al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden as a freedom fighter who stood up for his people.

Independent MP Hone Harawira said the positive aspects of bin Laden's life needed to be acknowledged and urged people not to damn the Al-Qaeda mastermind, who was killed Monday when US special forces raided his compound in Pakistan.

"We have heard nothing but negative things about him from the Americans, but he fought for the self-determination of his people and for his beliefs," Harawira told Maori-language television on Monday.

"Indeed, despite what the media has said, his family, his tribe, his people are in mourning.

"They mourn for the man who fought for the rights, the lands and the freedom of his people. We should not damn them in death but acknowledge the positive aspects of life."

Harawira said in his remarks, which were published in English-language media Thursday, that it was customary for New Zealand's indigenous Maori to "honour and mourn" the dead, including bin Laden.

"So I acknowledge him and bid him farewell. Return to your ancestors who wait for you beyond the veil of death," he said.

Harawira, a strong advocate for Maori rights, stirred controversy last year when he said he would not want his children to date white New Zealanders.

He was formerly a member of the Maori Party, a minority partner in the National Party-led conservative government, but left it in February, saying it was not doing enough to advance the cause of indigenous people.

His comments on bin Laden's death contrast with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key's response to the US operation on Monday, when he said: "I have absolutely no doubt that the world is a safer place without Osama bin Laden."