Covid-19 Omicron outbreak: Wellington protest at Parliament enters 23rd day – police gather in big numbers

Police are continuing to remove cars from outside Parliament in an operation that began before dawn and has led to 36 arrests so far today.

By 2pm most of the vehicles in lower Molesworth St had been removed as officers gain “significant ground” from the occupation site.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says officers will continue to try to clear roads and restore order throughout the day.

“Our message to those who do not want to be caught up in our operation is ‘please go home. We were clear from the start that de-escalation was our focus. We reached a stage where protest leaders were either unwilling or unable to effect change.”

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Hundreds of police descended on Wellington’s CBD at 6am to take back the occupation and were faced with protesters armed with home made weapons such as pitch-forks, trip wires, fire extinguishers and plywood shields. Some protesters also shined lasers at the police helicopter circling the operation from above.

Sixty people have been arrested and three police officers injured in the chaotic scenes this morning. Forklifts have been working to hoist protesters’ cars on to trucks and moved out.

While police say the violent clashes and weapons are”disappointing” they are pleased with the number of people and vehicles that have voluntarily left the protest area this morning.

In a statement, police said they have seen at least 10 children in the main protest area and will be working Oranga Tamariki in this morning’s operation.

They have reiterated the protest is not a place for children and are urging all protesters to take their kids home.

“Our staff are ready to assist those who wish to leave, including helping them get their vehicles out safely.”

Young children are still present at the main protest site, despite the violence in the surrounding streets – including one young enough to still be in a pram.

According to one livestream from the grounds of the protest, some protesters were calling for children to be taken to the front of Parliament House to act as a buffer between them and the police.

Anti-vaccine and anti-mandate protesters have been occupying Parliament for 23 days, clogging the surrounding streets with cars and trucks. Police say they have started towing cars, and are now moving to tow larger vehicles as they close in on Parliament.

Police are removing infrastructure from the protest site, using a forklift to take awayport-a-loos and toilet blocks.

Violent scenes as police, protesters clash

At the intersection of Hill St and Aitken St, chaotic scenes erupted as police moved in. Protesters could be heard crying in pain after allegedly being pepper sprayed and police were lined several people deep trying to move them on.

Police have also been injured in the clashes with paramedics seen tending to at least two officers.

Fighting broke out on Molesworth St as police armed with riot shields moved down to take it, with officers dismantling tents and shoving protesters out of the way. Some protesters could be seen throwing objects, screaming abuse, and confronting officers.
Protesters hit by pepper spray were using water from the two pools outside the Court of Appeal building to flush their eyes.

As police moved down the street protesters hurled full water bottles and discharged fire extinguishers at them. One officer who was blasted in the face by the foam from the extinguisher was seen being treated by paramedics.

Other protesters are taking down their tents and removing supplies from Molesworth St.

Protest spokesman Leighton Baker said the Human Rights Commission had been asked to attend the protest today as protesters continued to exercise their right to lawful assembly.

“This has from day dot been a peaceful protest and we’re going to keep it that way,” he said on a Facebook Live interview.

Police gaining ground

A police helicopter is circling overhead and people are urged to stay out of the area as police, some clad in riot gear, march into Parliament and the surrounding grounds.

Police have so far reclaimed the National Library and the Parliamentary Library forecourt as well as several streets – but protesters can be seen building buffers out of pallets to try and stave off police advances.

Police say this morning’s operation, which began at 6am, has gone as planned and they are pleased to see a number of protester vehicles preparing to leave the area.

“A pre-planned operation is under way to restore access within the protest area on Parliament grounds,” police said in a statement shortly after officers began moving into the area.

“Police are advising the public to avoid the area around Parliament this morning. Further updates will be provided as information becomes available.”

The police movement has cut multiple groups off from each other.

A message broadcast across speakers from police warns protesters they face arrest. “This is Police. Parliament Grounds are closed. If you do not leave, you are trespassing. Any obstruction of police staff executed in their duty may result in your arrest.”

Protesters are gathering en masse at barricades and within Parliament – some chanting “peace and love”, others abuse.

“They do have an aim to get rid of us today,” said one protester.

Early morning standoff

The drama started about 6am, as more than 100 police marched from behind Parliament and down Bowen St.

“They have taken back the library – that means they are on the [Parliament] grounds,” a protester said.

Protesters could be heard shouting “peace and love” and Bob Marley’s ‘Get up, Stand up’ was playing over the protesters’ PA system.

Protesters say police are stationed on all corners of streets leading to the Parliamentary precinct and have hemmed in protesters

There are reports of police prisoner vehicles in the area.

A van with a megaphone is also reportedly telling protesters to move to Hill St, on the other side of Parliament, to avoid the encampment from being overrun.

A woman holding a flag could be seen pushing back police and yelling: “F*** off. Don’t touch me.”

In a second statement, police said: “Commuters into the northern part of Wellington City are advised to plan for further traffic disruption around the protest area. Hill Street is closed and people are asked to avoid the area this morning. Updates will continue throughout the morning.”

A stand-off was under way at the Cenotaph as police again escorted a forklift.

“All we want is our lives back, our normal lives back,” one female protester said. She then yelled about the World Economic Forum and told police: “Your children will live with your decisions.”

Images from overnight show a fleet of hired vans outside the Wellington police station – believed to be used to transport hundreds of officers into the Capital.

The NZ Farmers for Freedom group urged people to travel to Parliament, in the event of police action.

“As you have already heard, there is a larger than usual number of police in Wellington tonight,” the group wrote on Facebook. “We are very concerned about what they may be planning to do to the peaceful protesters of Parliament tonight. In order to reduce the chance of anything unfortunate happening, we request that as many New Zealanders as possible come to central Wellington tonight.

“You don’t need to join the protest, just be an extra set of eyes on the perimeter. If you have a smartphone, be ready to take photos/record videos.”

Meanwhile, five Wellington police cars had their tyres slashed in an act of retaliation as the anti-mandate protest on Parliament grounds enters day 23.

Police confirmed the vandalism happened after officers removed a block of portable showers in the dead of night using a forklift.

Protesters brought in the illegal shower block on Monday. One civilian car was slightly damaged in the late-night seizure operation.

The shower block was the latest addition to the camp, after makeshift toilets were erected on Sunday and plumbed illegally into Wellington’s wastewater system.

A police spokesperson said they were searching for the people who slashed the police vehicles’ tyres, and that any more large infrastructure brought in by protesters would be confiscated and not returned.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, protesters said police are “determined to represent the protest site as a “river of filth” following the seizing of a shower block.

The protesters disputed claims by police that the site is “unsanitary” and they claim that be seizing of the shower block was theft.

“Not only was this theft of private property, it is directly at odds with their concerns about sanitation. It remains unclear which laws this shower block was breaking.”

On top of claims around sanitation, the statement mentioned police had stopped service vehicles from emptying portaloos.

“The Police have blocked the service vehicles from emptying portaloos which has led to protestors plumbing the toilets into the sewer mains to stave off an actual public health hazard.

“They made this decision in the full knowledge their actions would create a public health issue. Police know approximately 20 per cent of people on site are young children and those aged 60 plus and over 55 per cent of people at site being women.”

However, protesters got into a scuffle with officers near Parliament while bringing in large wooden pallets yesterday morning.

Police were also seen confronting three men near the Wellington Railway Station in the afternoon. An officer could be seen carrying what appeared to be a spear gun.

Police say the individual with a “fishing weapon” was charged with possessing an offensive weapon.

The Freedom and Rights Coalition urged a mass non-compliance movement of people acting as though the traffic light system, vaccination mandates and further Covid-19 protection methods do not exist.

Unvaccinated people were being encouraged to return to their jobs as part of a mass lawsuit, and the coalition is threatening to tear down protective screens in businesses, as well as Covid-19 QR codes.

Police said any such breaches could lead to enforcement action.

“Police are aware of the statement issued by the Freedom and Rights Coalition, and note
several of the activities encouraged would be in breach of the Health Act.”

The focus from police remains on containing the protest. They understand some people are trying to leave the occupation – but are blocked in by other protesters’ vehicles.

“We will be overseeing the perimeter today to allow vehicles to leave in a one-way exit if they wish to do so.”

Meanwhile, protesters remain camped at Auckland Domain.

They were issued with breach of bylaw notices yesterday morning by council staff, who were supported by police. But by the afternoon, there were no signs of movement.

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said it was “irresponsible” for those involved in the Parliamentary occupation to tell people to shun public health advice.

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