Clashes erupted Thursday near the New Zealand Parliament in Wellington between police and anti-Covid-19 vaccination protesters, who have gathered for three days and more than 120 have been arrested.
The security forces intervened to disperse this gathering, and specifically to dismantle the improvised camp that was set up near the parliament, while Maori activists sang the Hakka, chanting “Hold your positions” in the face of the police advance.
The latter received punches and kicks while they were insulted with slogans such as “This is not democracy”, “shame on you” or “abandonment of commitment”.
Authorities closed the Parliament campus, which is rare, to prevent protesters from receiving reinforcements.
Police advanced to the parliament building but retreated behind barricades in the late afternoon as protesters chanted and shouted victory.
The evacuation could take days according to Wellington Police Chief Cory Parnell, who accuses some activists of using children as human shields to fend off the police.
“It is unfortunate that although the square was officially closed to the public earlier today, a number of protesters are rejecting repeated calls to leave the compound,” he said.
The rally, which began on Tuesday, echoed the “caravan of freedom that Canadian truck drivers started at the end of January denouncing the obligation to vaccinate to cross the border with the United States.”
After leaving Vancouver, they had been laying siege to the capital, Ottawa, for a week and inspired similar moves in other countries.
In New Zealand, hundreds of caravanserais and trucks closed down Wellington’s Parliament District on Tuesday. Most left after 24 hours but a solid core remained determined to stay there “as long as necessary”.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said residents’ patience with the disruption caused by this mobilization had been exhausted and the police had to step in.
“City streets are closed, shops and businesses are closed, and people feel threatened and intimidated by some protesters,” he said in an interview with Radio New Zealand ahead of the police move, for which 100-strong reinforcements were sent.
Residents of the capital complained of being attacked for wearing protective masks and many businesses close to Parliament had to close because their employees asked to check health cards.
Wellington Town Hall has warned that its agents will start issuing tickets for vehicles blocking streets as part of the mobilization of anti-sanitary measures.
A woman, who declined to be named, accused the police of provoking the crowd. It was a peaceful protest, and what they did is a disgrace.”
“I never imagined seeing this in New Zealand,” she added.
New Zealand has made vaccination against Covid-19 mandatory for people working in the health, police, education and defense sectors.
Those who refuse face the risk of dismissal. Proof of vaccination is required at restaurants, sporting events, and religious services.
According to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, “96% of New Zealand’s population has been vaccinated.”
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