NZ protests swell, defying police ultimatum
Hundreds of protesters defied a police ultimatum to leave the area around Wellington’s ‘Beehive’ parliament on Wednesday, with the crowd continuing to swell. The authorities have described the ongoing demonstration as “orderly.”
Inspired by the ‘Freedom Convoy’ in Canada, activists have blocked several roads in the capital with trucks, vans and motorcycles for nine days. Protesters have also been camping on the grounds outside the distinctive parliament building.
Had a bird’s eye view of the protest in Wellington tonight. It is not going away in a hurry. pic.twitter.com/mG9NFHxpDo— DeePee (@D_Provoost) February 16, 2022
On Tuesday, police requested that the demonstrators move on voluntarily, warning that the authorities would otherwise start towing vehicles away and seizing equipment.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Assistant Police Commissioner Richard Chambers said that there had been an “influx” of protesters, including children, around parliament, but added that the crowd was “orderly.”
“This is a very complex situation, and we are mindful of the tactics we need to take so that the situation is not escalated,” Chambers noted, adding that there were about 450 vehicles blocking the site.
The police chief said that there had been some progress in engaging with protest leaders on Wednesday, and around a dozen vehicles had left voluntarily.
The protests began in opposition to vaccine mandates but have expanded to include broader resistance to New Zealand’s Covid-19 restrictions, which are among the strictest and longest lasting in the world.
Speaking to RT, Franko Heke, a musician and meditation teacher who has been at the forefront of the activism, said that New Zealand’s vaccine mandate is doing far more harm than Covid itself.
It’s “tearing apart families, stripping away jobs from needed and hardworking New Zealanders, sending our country’s mental health through the floor and upping our suicide rates, all for the now weakest strand of the virus,” he stated.
“We have become so afraid of dying that we’re not living and it’s time for everyone to choose for themselves about what they put in their bodies,” he added.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has labeled the demonstrations as an “imported” phenomenon and has refused to consider loosening restrictions, including border controls, which have cut thousands of expatriate New Zealanders cut off from families.
The country is currently experiencing its highest infection rate since the pandemic began, amid the spread of the Omicron variant. More than 1,100 cases were reported on Wednesday. New Zealand has reported a total of around 22,300 infections, including 53 deaths.