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Live: Scorched earth – police shunt occupiers off lawn, fire hoses turned on protesters

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 2 Mar 2022, 2:27pm

Live: Scorched earth – police shunt occupiers off lawn, fire hoses turned on protesters

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 2 Mar 2022, 2:27pm

Riot police have successfully forced occupiers off Parliament's front lawn, but fresh violence has emerged as protesters attack officers at the nearby Cenotaph. 

Police are blocking off the road and footpath in between the Cenotaph and Lambton Quay. 

Fire hoses are being used to deter protesters, who have pulled up paving stones from Parliament's driveway and are hurling them at police. Several injured officers have been carried away for treatment. 

Police Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers told Newstalk ZB that "about 60" arrests had been made. 

He was "aware of some people inciting activity" in response to claims some protesters were calling to set fire to Parliament. 

A large group of officers in riot gear and body armour gathered outside the Parliamentary Library complex and then began advancing on the main occupation site on Parliament's lawn, sparking fresh skirmishes just before 2.30pm. 

As officers cleared Parliament lawns police say protesters deliberately set several tents on fire. 

"These actions put both protesters and emergency service staff at significant risk." 

A slide at Parliament's playground was also torched. 

Firefighters have now extinguished the fires. 

Officers have pushed the protesters past the halfway mark of Parliament's front lawn, past the John Seddon statue. 

Protesters responded by throwing bottles and chairs and dousing officers with fire extinguishers. Police responded with pepper spray. 

Protest spokesman Leighton Baker was among those pepper sprayed and arrested, his family says. 

Earlier: Police tow 30 vehicles from surrounding streets 

Earlier today police removed about 30 vehicles from outside Parliament in an operation that began before dawn and led to 36 arrests. 

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

Police have vowed to clear the large anti-vaccine, anti-mandate protest that has occupied Parliament for the last three weeks, no matter how long it takes. 

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said on Wednesday police "will continue this operation until it's completed". 

Coster said the crowd has become focused on confrontation, and order needs to be restored to Wellington. 

"That includes clearing streets and removing tents." 

Forklifts are being used to scoop up trucks and tents, and infrastructure such as portaloos and toilets have been removed too. 

Fifteen vehicles have been towed and seized and "will not be returned in the immediate future" Coster said. 

It comes after a long morning of violent clashes between police and protesters in which 36 people were arrested, dozens of vehicles were towed and three police officers were injured. 

Paramedics tend to police. Photo / Mike Scott 

Police say they were aware of protesters carrying homemade weapons including pitch-forks, trip-wires, fire extinguishers and plywood shields – some protesters also shined a laser at the police helicopter which was circling the operation, which police said was "disappointing". 

"Three of our staff have received injuries, two with abrasions and one with paint thrown in the face. All received medical attention at the scene and are back working in operation." 

A shirtless man is dragged by police. Photo / Mike Scott 

Large swathes of the occupation have now been cleared, and police have control over the National Library and a few of the surrounding streets. 

Children are still present at the occupation, despite the chaotic scenes of the morning and police are urging protesters to take their kids somewhere safe – they added Oranga Tamariki will be assisting them in the operation. 

Children are still present despite police urging their parents to take them home. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

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. 

A protester kisses a child at the Parliament occupation. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

It comes as a whopping 22,152 new community cases of Covid-19 were recorded in the community, and 405 people are in hospital with the virus. 

The occupation has been referred to as "Camp Covid" by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, with fears it could be a superspreader event. The Ministry of Health confirmed 20 cases have been recorded among protesters, with the real number likely to be much higher due to a reluctance to get tested. 

A protester being comforted after police action against them on day 23 of the Covid-19 Convoy protest at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

"The Ministry remains concerned about protesters becoming severely ill with Covid-19 and the potential for the protest to become a superspreader event." 

A Herald reporter at the protest on Wednesday said people were "visibly sick" and coughing. 

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