Peer pressure pays off in Auckland despite protests

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AUCKLAND (Reuters) - Israel's Shahar Peer was the subject of protests for the third successive day at the WTA Tour's Auckland Classic on Thursday, though the 22-year-old still advanced to the semi-finals of the event.

Five people, amongst a group of about 20 protesting at Israel's policies toward Palestinians and urging Peer to withdraw from the tournament, were arrested outside the central Auckland venue, local media reported.

One was arrested on Wednesday during a protest, which caused a delay to Peer's second round victory over Slovakia's Magdalena Rybarikova on one of the outside courts.

Peer, however, continued to be seemingly totally unfazed by the outside distractions and moved into the semi-finals with a 6-0 3-6 6-1 victory over Russia's Maria Kirilenko on center court.

She will meet third seed Yanina Wickmayer in the semi-finals on Friday after the Belgian overpowered the tournament's surprise package Kimiko Date Krumm 6-2 6-2.

The Japanese former world number four, who returned to the courts in May 2008 after more than a decade away from the game, had upset fifth seed Virgine Razzano of France in the second round on Wednesday.

The Razzano victory was the first time the 39-year-old had beaten a top-20 player since she returned, though she also dispatched former world number five Anna Chakvetadze in the first round.

Pennetta will face the winner of the final quarter-final between compatriot and fourth seed Francesca Schiavone and unseeded Frenchwoman Alize Cornet.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Patrick Johnston)