The Santas, many of them apparently drunk, went on a rampage through Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, raiding stores, assaulting security guards and urinating from highway overpasses, police said on Sunday.

The rampage, part of a movement known as Santarchy, began early on Saturday afternoon when the men, wearing cheap, ill-fitting Santa costumes, threw beer bottles and urinated on cars from an overpass, said Noreen Hegarty, spokeswoman for the Auckland Central Police.

She said the men then rushed through a central city park,
overturning rubbish bins, throwing bottles at passing
cars and spraying graffiti on office buildings.

One man climbed the mooring line of a cruise ship before
being ordered down by the captain. Other Santas, objecting
when the man was arrested, attacked security staff who were later treated by paramedics, Hegarty said.

Three arrested

The remaining Santas entered a store and carried off beer and soft drinks.

Changa Manakynda, the shop owner, said: "They came in, said 'Merry Christmas' and then helped themselves."

The group is part of a worldwide
movement known as Santarchy

Two security guards were treated for cuts after being struck by beer bottles, Hegarty said.

Three people, including the man who climbed on the cruise ship, were arrested and charged with drunkenness and disorderly behaviour.

Alex Dyer, a spokesman for the group of Santas, said Santarchy is a worldwide movement designed to protest against the commercialisation of Christmas. 

Santarchy records protests going back 10 years in the US, with participants marking Christmas in anti-commercial ways involving street theatre, pranks and public drunkenness.

Police said identification was a key issue as they tried to sort out which of the 40 men and women in New Zealand had done what. 

Senior Sergeant Matt Rogers said: "With a number of people dressed in the same outfit, it was difficult for any witnesses to confirm the identity of who was doing what."