New Zealand police have been attacked by anti-mandate protesters after ordering demonstrators off the lawns of Parliament House in Wellington.
The Convoy 2022 NZ group has camped outside parliament for the past two nights after travelling to the NZ capital to protest the government’s COVID-19 response.
It came as New Zealand notched a daily COVID-19 record, with 306 community cases reported on Thursday.
The convoy began from the northern tip of North Island and the southernmost town of South Island on Sunday, growing in number on the way and reaching Wellington on Tuesday for a largely respectful, if boisterous, rally.
However, it didn’t leave at day’s end. Instead, protesters pitched tents on the grounds, in defiance of parliamentary rules, and left their cars on surrounding roads, blocking traffic.
Three protesters were arrested on Wednesday, including one who attempted to perform a citizen’s arrest of Health Minister Andrew Little.
By Thursday, the situation had become untenable and Speaker Trevor Mallard ordered the grounds closed to try to restore order.
An extra 100 police – on top of the dozens already on the scene – attended parliament, where protesters linked arms and resisted being moved on.
NZ media outlets reported officers were punched and kicked by protesters in ongoing scuffles through the day. There were more than 50 arrests by 11.30am.
“Police have appealed repeatedly to protesters to leave the grounds and have begun evicting people from the precinct,” Superintendent Corrie Parnell said.
“Police acknowledges people’s right to protest. This needs to be conducted in a way that do not unfairly impact on the wider public.”
The Wellington City Council has also begun ticketing vehicles left unlawfully blocking streets around parliament.
“Wellingtonians have the right to conduct their lives and go about their business without the interference of ongoing unlawful activity,” Ms Parnell said.
She added that continued traffic delays were likely, and urged Wellingtonians to avoid the area if possible.
As of 4pm Thursday (local time), hundreds of protesters remained on the lawns, claiming victory in their resistance of the officers. Many were breaking into song – including the national anthem, Kiwi classics such as Slice of Heaven by Dave Dobbyn and 1980s charity single We are the World.
The protest appears muddled, with some protesting vaccine mandates, others opposing vaccines generally and still others protesting other government policies.
But they are united in their opposition to the police, and to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is regularity abused by speakers and in signs among the group.
One protester wrote in their social media group “When we win I want to eat Nieve (sic)”, a reference to Ms Ardern’s three-year-old daughter.
Parliamentarians have given the protests a wide berth, with no sitting MPs visiting or praising the protest.
Ms Ardern, who was not at parliament on Thursday, did not call for protesters to leave on Wednesday, leaving it in the hands of police. On Thursday, however, she agreed the protest should be wound down.