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Live: Riot police move in on protesters after violent early morning clashes

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 22 Feb 2022, 3:11pm

Live: Riot police move in on protesters after violent early morning clashes

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 22 Feb 2022, 3:11pm

More than a dozen police officers with riot gear and protest security are making their way towards protesters near Parliament in Wellington – after violent clashes this morning. 

About 14 officers with riot gear, accompanied by paramedics, are walking down Bowen St, towards the Lambton Quay intersection, followed by more than 30 police wearing protective glasses.

It comes after three officers were hospitalised after an unknown substance was thrown on them this morning and three people were arrested – including the driver of a car that deliberately plowed into police shortly after 6am.

Photo / Mark Mitchell

At just after 4.30pm, some riot police were stationed on the footpath and others on the road. 

Several people are frantically moving their cars, while about 200 people – occupiers and Wellingtonians – have started to crowd the area. 

Photo / Mark Mitchell 

Two paramedics are also with police, indicating there is an expectation for conflict with protesters. 

Police have positioned themselves in front of the two concrete bollards blocking the left turning lane from Bowen St onto Lambton Quay. 

A forklift appeared to be repositioning the bollards, before leaving the scene – accompanied by officers running beside it – 20 minutes later.

About 14 police with riot gear are walking down Bowen St. They are followed by more than 30 police wearing protective glasses. Photo / John Weekes

Meanwhile, a man is urging people to stay calm over a loudspeaker: "Do not antagonise the police". 

Some protesters have started a chant "love and peace" while others are linking arms along the concrete blocks. 

Protesters say police had warned them in advance of the action and it had been announced on the main stage about 10 minutes before they began. 

Attacks on police during Parliament occupation 'absolutely disgraceful' – Ardern 

The Prime Minister has joined police in condemning the "disgraceful" behaviour from protesters in Wellington that saw three officers hospitalised this morning. 

It follows an early morning police operation to move in on the occupation, now in its third week, after which a protester was arrested for driving a car into a crowd. 

Speaking to media in Auckland, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the attacks on police had been disgraceful. 

"There are a group that are increasingly acting out in a violent way towards police officers who are only doing their job," she said. 

To anyone who has said this is a peaceful protest, they could surely see now that in some quarters, it was not, Ardern said. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the media from Auckland. Photo / Dean Purcell 

Shortly after Ardern's press conference, former deputy prime minister Winston Peters arrived at the camp and addressed protesters without wearing a mask. 

Peters told protesters the Government should have talked to them earlier. 

Some of the protesters were criticising Peters over his support for mandates previously. 

Winston Peters among protesters during day 15 of the Covid-19 convoy protest and occupation at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

Winston Peters among protesters during day 15 of the Covid-19 convoy protest and occupation at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

Asked for comment by media Peters said: "I'm here to talk to these people and hear them out, I'm not here to talk to you". 

"The mainstream media have been gaslighting you for a long time," Peters told a protester. 

Former deputy prime minister Winston Peters at the protest camp. Photo / Michael Neilson 

"Good on ya, Winston," people are calling out in support. 

Some protesters are confronting Peters calling him a "traitor". 

Asked about police response Peters said he was not here to comment on that issue but simply to hear from the people. 

Peters has neglected to speak from the main stage. A "we want Winston" chant broke out. 

Meanwhile, the Wellington Free Ambulance announced that it would no longer enter the protest area at Parliament. 

Wellington Free Ambulance, which provides free ambulance and healthcare services for the Greater Wellington and Wairarapa region, said in a statement the decision "had been made to prioritise the safety of our paramedics following the increase in hostilities experienced both this morning and yesterday". 

"As the only provider of ambulance services in the region, we will continue to support people requiring urgent medical attention, but this will be at a designated safe space outside the recently established cordon. 
"It has been widely publicised that the protesters have established their own medical support within the cordon area. The Wellington Free Ambulance Tactical Emergency Support team will remain behind the cordon to support the NZ Police response." 

Non-protesting residents would still receive support if required, the statement said. 

"Over the past 95 years Wellington Free Ambulance has responded to emergencies for anyone, anywhere, no matter the circumstances and this decision has not been made lightly. 

"We hope that our community of supporters understand the need to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of our paramedics during this time of ongoing unrest in the Capital." 

Earlier, Police said they were appalled by the "absolutely disgraceful" behaviour of protesters in Wellington this morning after three officers were hospitalised having been sprayed with a "stinging substance". 

Reports of sexual assault at the site have also emerged, with police urging anyone concerned to come forward. 

After an early morning police operation, a protester was arrested for driving a car into a crowd, as police moved in on the occupation – now in its third week. 

Three officers were sprayed with an as-yet-unknown stinging substance, which police believe is acid, but all are doing well, police confirm. 

No one was hurt by the car driving into the crowd. 

Police said some officers are equipped with shields in order to protect themselves from objects thrown by protesters. Video / Mark Mitchell 

Hundreds of police officers, armed with riot shields, advanced on the protest area around 6am. 

An hour of violent confrontation followed as protesters faced off against officers trying to move concrete bollards closer to Parliament and reclaim Wellington streets. 

Police retreated around 7am. 

A police cordon across Molesworth Street during day 15 of the Covid-19 convoy protest. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

Later in the morning, Police Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers said there were reports of sexual assault at the site, and called for anybody concerned to come to police. 

Asked if there were any hope of negotiating given the aggressive behaviour towards police, Chambers said they hoped other leaders in the group would have influence. Police continued to work to de-esclatate the situation. 

Police Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers addressed media on the protest action. Photo / George Heard 

He said a number of protesters had left after yesterday's operation to install concrete barriers in eight locations. 

Some of those who left had done so over concerns of what they were seeing. 

While yesterday there were around 900 cars, this number was also decreasing, he said. 

Chambers said they were working towards returning the occupation to a "peaceful, lawful protest" within days. 

"The sooner the better that is for everybody." 

Violence erupted as police clashed with protesters early this morning. Photo / George Heard 

Chambers would not respond to questions about why this action had not been taken two weeks ago, saying their goal was to focus on what was ahead. 

Police earlier confirmed three people had been arrested, two for obstructing police and another for driving in a dangerous manner. 

"Other officers were fortunate to escape injury after a person deliberately drove the wrong way down Molesworth St and stopped just short of colliding with them," police said. 

About 250 staff were involved in the early morning operation to further reduce the perimeter around the protest. 

"Staff secured locations at Aitken, Molesworth and Hill Sts to allow forklift vehicles to move the concrete blocks. 

"The bollard line on Aitken St and Hill St was moved in about 50 metres, and about 100m on Molesworth St." 

Shields were deployed this morning after protesters yesterday threw human waste at officers, and earlier today when they threw objects. 

Covid 19 Omicron outbreak, Parliament protest: Tempers flare - police say 'genuine protesters no longer in control'. Video / George Heard / Jack Crossland / Adam Pearse 

Meanwhile the Government is continuing to monitor whether the Defence Force is needed at the Wellington protests, after the violent scenes this morning. 

Defence Minister Peeni Henare said no decisions had been made, but the Defence Force and police commissioner continued to engage "at an operational level". 

"We'll continue to monitor that and I've said to the chief of Defence Force to make sure that in his discussions with the police commissioner about what their expectations [are] should we call in the Defence force." 

"But at the moment that's the police role." 

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