Bag scare at ASB Classic, stadium evacuated Tuesday

AUCKLAND, New Zealand: The stadium where the ASB Classic women's tennis tournament is being played was briefly evacuated Tuesday after an unattended bag was found, organizers said.

The discovery of the bag coincided with a protest against the presence at the tournament of Israeli player Shahar Peer, but organizers said the events were apparently unconnected.

Players and spectators were forced to leave the tennis complex and streets around the central Auckland stadium were sealed off while emergency services dealt with the incident.

The evacuation occurred shortly before the scheduled start of play.

The New Zealand protest group Global Peace and Justice earlier Tuesday said it had written to Peer, 22, asking her to withdraw from the tournament "as a demonstration of your commitment to peace."

Global Peace and Justice also wrote to Peer and protested her presence at last year's tournament.

The group said it opposes Israel's treatment of Palestinians and advocates a sporting boycott of Israel.

Peer's appearance at last year's tournament coincided with Israel's offensive in the Gaza strip but advertised protests drew only about 20 demonstrators.

The letter sent to Peer on Tuesday said her withdrawal from ASB Classic, a WTA Tour event, would be a "significant sacrifice."

"Because of your high profile in Israel you could assist peace efforts greatly by speaking out against Israeli government policy. Your silence will indicate to us your sympathy with (the Israeli government)," the letter said.

Global Peace and Justice said sporting boycotts were "more visible than a trade or investment boycott and can have an important psychological impact. We saw this with the successful sports boycotts against apartheid (in) South Africa."

Peer has not responded to the letter but last year said she was disappointed to be singled out by protesters. - AP

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