New Zealand Police pepper spray NZ anti-vax protesters
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Police pepper spray NZ anti-vax protesters

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Police moved on the Convoy 2022 NZ protest that has been outside New Zealand's parliament since February 8. Photo: Getty
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New Zealand police have used serious force to try to end an anti-vaccine occupation outside New Zealand’s parliament, arresting dozens on Wednesday.

By lunchtime (local time), 36 protesters had been arrested in a premeditated operation to clear out the protest on day 23 of its illegal campout in the national capital, Wellington.

Police surprised the protesters by moving before dawn.

At 6.06am, protest organisers sent a simple message through its organising social media channel: “WAKE UP”, followed by “All who can be on the ground need you all now please” at 6.31am.

Protesters dug in to resist the operation, forming human chains and confronting police at flashpoints around parliament.

Officers with riot gear used pepper spray against protesters. Commissioner Andy Coster said the move was in response to police being sprayed with a fire extinguisher.

“Our message to those who do not want to be caught up … is please go home,” Mr Coster said.

Many have chosen to do that, while a hardcore crew of a few hundred remained on Wednesday.

Mr Coster said a change in the makeup of the crowd in the past week had prompted the action, which included destroying tents and towing vehicles.

“We reached the stage where protest leaders were unwilling or unable to affect meaningful change,” he said.

“In the last week we have seen a changing mix in the makeup of the crowd …those with good intentions are now outnumbered by those with the willingness to use violence.”

“The harm being done far outweighs any legitimate protest.”

At least one attack on media has been reported. A cameraman was assaulted by a protester, who said “this wouldn’t have happened if you guys had told the truth”.

Protesters retained control of loudspeakers outside parliament, playing songs such as Amazing Grace and Don’t Stop Believing.

The “Convoy 2022 NZ” protest began on February 6, New Zealand’s national day, when hundreds of protesters took off from the furthest points of the country to descend on Wellington.

They reached parliament two days later to protest on the first day of the parliamentary year – and have remained since.

They set up camp on the parliament grounds, leaving their cars to block CBD streets, and installing all sorts of facilities in readiness for a long stay.

That included laundry, daycare, food and coffee trucks. There were also crystal healing tents, cryptocurrency stalls, a playground for children, and even toilets plumbed in the middle of a road into Wellington’s sewerage system.

To the irritation of many Wellingtonians, the local university and businesses, protesters staged daily rallies to shout invective at the government, journalists and health officials.

They regularly call for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and government MPs to be tried and executed.

They have thrown human waste at police officers and abused children for wearing masks as they walk to school.

Ms Ardern said she supported the police action.

“They have been given ample opportunity to leave [and] it is time for them to go,” she said.

“The protest has been at times violent and increasingly fuelled by misinformation and sadly conspiracy theories.”

The protest has coincided with New Zealand’s biggest outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were 22,152 community cases reported on Wednesday – the first day NZ has had more than 20,000 local infections. Across the country, 405 people are in hospital with the virus.

At least 20 protesters, many of whom are unvaccinated, and all of whom are maskless, have tested positive to the virus during the occupation.

Health officials say their unwillingness to get tested masks the true number, and COVID-19 is rampant among protesters.

Some protesters delusionally believe they have caught “radiation poisoning” from what they allege are government-installed towers to make them sick.

-AAP