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Live: Police in riot gear clash with protesters; site a 'high-risk' location of interest

Sophie Trigger, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 24 Feb 2022, 7:08am

Live: Police in riot gear clash with protesters; site a 'high-risk' location of interest

Sophie Trigger, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 24 Feb 2022, 7:08am

Police – including some in riot gear – shoved protesters to the ground as they cleared a section of Lambton Quay at the Wellington protest this afternoon. 

An estimated 100 police gathered at the bottom of the street – next to the concrete block barricades – and blocked traffic there. 

Police officers told a man trying to cross the street that the "road was closed for an operation". 

Some officers shoved people to the ground and into the concrete blocks, Herald reporters on the scene say. 

Riot police lined up in front of the concrete bollards and a forklift arrived on the scene. It placed a new bollard down with existing ones. 

A truck arrived at the back of Parliament and more concrete bollards were unloaded. There were about seven blocks, presumably to be added to the blockade. 

Protesters nearby chanted "peace and love" as the events unfolded this afternoon. More than 300 protesters have gathered on Lambton Quay and at the Cenotaph, watching on as more bollards are placed. 

A man speaking into a loudspeaker has told protesters that police will reportedly be moving soon. The man was one of the key protesters who communicated between the two parties at the Hill St standoff last night, where riot police were also employed. 

The scene on Lambton Quay this afternoon. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

The police action clearly caught protesters by surprise and when police arrived, only a handful were at the barrier. 

Police pushed them outside the protest area, and grabbed a flag off a man trying to hit them with it. 

Officers without riot shields came out of the Parliament precinct very strongly, running towards anyone who was near the concrete bollards, shouting at them to move aside as riot police formed their line. 

A protester confronts a police officer in Wellington this afternoon. Photo / George Heard 

Some protesters have made their own shields out of plywood, with handles made of rope and hosing. 

Protesters are lying the shields on the ground, presumably to hide them from police. About five are in the area. 

Some protesters were practising how they would pick the shields up if riot police charged. 

The shields have messages on them, including "Make [love] not war" and "What about your kids". 

Bail for man who allegedly drove car at police 

Meanwhile, the man who allegedly drove a car at police during the Wellington protests has been granted bail. 

Name suppression lapsed this afternoon for Joseph Witana, 53. 

He is charged with assaulting police using a car as a weapon. 

The maximum penalty for the alleged offence is five years' jail. 

The homeless man from Wainuiomata pleaded not guilty and elected a trial by jury. 

He has been ordered to stay out of Wellington and not travel south of Ngauranga Gorge except to attend court or see his barrister, Kevin Preston. 

The Bail Act prohibits the reporting of some details about the hearing. 

Witana will next appear in court in late April. 

He appeared today from custody by audiovisual link before Judge Andrew Nicholls at Wellington District Court. 

Boats crossing from Picton 

Maritime New Zealand says that – alongside "several other partner agencies" – it is "closely monitoring plans by a group to cross the Cook Strait, from Picton to Wellington". 

It is believed the group connected to the parliamentary protest is planning on making the voyage over the next couple of days, MNZ says00. 

Deputy Director Safety and Response Systems Nigel Clifford says the Cook Strait can be very dangerous. 

"It is known locally and internationally as one of the most rugged stretches of water in the world, with strong winds and tidal effects that can create, at times, risky conditions," he says. 

"Local harbourmasters, police and Coastguard are also monitoring the plans of the group." 

"We do not recommend trying to cross the Cook Strait if you are an inexperienced boatie, or on vessels unable to cope with large swells," Clifford said. 

'High-risk' location of interest 

The protest was earlier today deemed a "high-risk" Covid location of interest, with health officials updating the locations list just after midday to include the camp outside Parliament. 

It comes on day 17 of the protests at Parliament, after a series of scuffles broke out between police and protesters overnight. 

Police continue to be concerned at the level of aggressive behaviour from protestors in Wellington, who last night moved bollards from protest's perimeter. 

At 9pm they moved barriers from the intersection on Lambton Quay and Bowen Street letting about 20 vehicles into the protest area, said police, who were able to reposition the bollards without incident. 

Protesters on Hill Street also armed themselves with makeshift shields made of plywood and rope. 

At 4pm yesterday a group of 10–15 protesters also entered Pipitea Marae and 
demanded Police and Māori wardens vacate immediately, where they were verbally trespassed by police. 

While people at the protest has fluctuated between 150–300 at different times of the day, police have seen a significant decrease in number of vehicles and people. 

About 300 vehicles remained inside the cordoned area overnight, down 
significantly from last weekend. 

Although the offer of free parking ended yesterday, there are around 35 vehicles still at Sky Stadium. 

Mayor critical of 'vile behavior' 

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster has spoken out against the "vile behaviour" at the Parliament protests after yesterday, defending meeting with the demonstrators. 

Foster gave a speech at the beginning of a full council meeting this morning, where councillors will discuss a pandemic response plan to help local businesses. 

Wellington mayor Andy Foster. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

He said the pandemic has upended plans, dreams and livelihoods. 

"It has prevented people getting together with loved ones, sometimes prevented people saying their final farewells. Many people are stressed, tired, sometimes angry, and fearful", Foster said. 

"Directly associated with that we also have an unprecedented protest occupying the grounds of Parliament, and surrounding streets, and important public places." 

Foster said the protest is hurting local businesses, schools and people's ability to move around the city freely. 

"Let's be clear, this protest has to end, it will end, it's just a matter of when and how." 

Foster thanked Police Commissioner Andrew Coster and police officers for the way they were dealing with the protest methodically, professionally, and with "admirable restraint". 

He acknowledged some of his colleagues have been critical of his meeting with protest influencers but said any meeting was only conducted with the explicit support of police. 

Foster noted significant figures, like former Prime Minister Jim Bolger, were encouraging dialogue. 

"We're all working together around the clock to try and resolve this endless protest as quickly as possible, and as safely as possible, so that we can return this part of our city to Wellingtonians. 

"But we're also conscious that this protest must be resolved in such a way that does not provoke further issues around New Zealand and that leaves our country and our people scarred." 

Foster said while the country was by no means through the pandemic, he believed there was light at the end of the Omicron tunnel. 

"We will reclaim our city streets and places. We're discussing today a pandemic response package to help our struggling businesses to get through to help preserve jobs, and vitality in our city. 

"We will get through this protest; we will get through Omicron." 

Police and protesters clashed on Parliament grounds on Wednesday night after up to 30 vehicles managed to re-enter the site. Video / NZ Herald 

Today the protest at Parliament grounds was listed as a high-risk location of interest, between 11.55am and 11pm on Saturday, and 11am and 11.59pm on Sunday. 

It comes as the Police Association has expressed concern for Covid spreading amongst police at the Parliament protest, with Police Association President Chris Cahill believing five officers have so far tested positive. 

Police Association president Chris Cahill on the threat of Covid for Wellington police officers, what should have been done differently Wednesday night when cars re-entered the site, and how staff are holding up after 17 days of protest. Video / NZ Herald 

"My biggest concern is Covid, we know a number of officers have been infected and if that continues to spread that is going to be the biggest risk on resourcing." 

"All those officers will be double and some triple vaxxed and wearing N95s or equivalent masks to there's a lot if steps being taken but the nature of the role they're in has risk." 

Cahill was confident they had enough RATS at this stage but will said they'll need to start using them more frequently and ensure supply continues. 

Speaking to media in Christchurch, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says there will be a time and place to loosen Covid-19 restrictions "but when we remove them it will be because it's safe to do so". 

She said the majority of New Zealand would be "extraordinarily disappointed if the Government was swayed by a much smaller minority who happen to be behaviour illegally on the forecourt of Parliament." 

Ardern says any decisions "would be based on public health advice, not protest activity". 

The PM is in Christchurch for an announcement on a new low-emission scheme. Video / Georgia O'Connor-Harding 

Earlier the Human Rights Commissioner says "constructive" discussions have been had with protesters at Parliament in Wellington resolution was still likely weeks away. 

"There's a lot of listening that needs to be done and at the moment people are hurting, they're worried, they're angry, they're confused," Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking. 

"When a relationship is under strain you have to listen and talk and that's what we're beginning to do." 

He said it was not a one-off meeting, describing it as a process that would stretch over days and weeks, and involved both protesters and other stakeholders. 

Asked if this meant the protesters would still be on the site in weeks he replied: "That I don't know but the issues are going to remain whether the protesters remain or not." 

He reiterated he did not speak for protesters nor the government, but he spoke for human rights. 

A human rights requirement was that government listen to what communities were saying, he said. 

The protest again turned violent on Day 16 as protesters clashed with police. Photo / George Heard 

"There will be no resolution without listening," said Hunt. 

Meanwhile protest action is being planned around the country this week, with people wanting vaccine mandates removed encouraged to walk across Auckland Harbour Bridge this Saturday. 

The Freedom and Rights Coalition revealed the plan on Facebook this morning as part of a national campaign to "March Out these Mandates". 

The group, connected with Brian Tamaki's Destiny Church, are also advertising protest action to take place in Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Nelson and Christchurch. 

The coalition group said they intended to make "a statement at significant landmarks" across New Zealand, but touted the events as "peaceful" and "family-friendly". 

The planned harbour bridge protest will see people gather on a North Shore domain. 

A Waka Kotahi spokesperson said there are no plans to close the Auckland Harbour Bridge despite the anti-mandate demonstrators flagging these plans. 

The Convoy protest continues to grow on Saturday with a large crowd gathering to hear speeches and more tents and cars camping in the area around Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

Police will be working to stop anyone from walking over the Auckland Harbour Bridge during an anti-mandate protest this weekend saying to do so could be "extremely dangerous". 

A police spokesperson said police were aware of the protest and would be contacting organisers to "begin a dialogue" and set out expectations. 

"Crossing the Harbour Bridge on foot would be unlawful and so Police will be working to prevent this as it could be extremely dangerous to those walking on the bridge and to other road users," said the spokesperson. 

While in general police did not comment on operational matters there had been no applications submitted to have the Auckland Harbour Bridge closed to traffic. 

Day 16 of the Anti-Mandate protests at Parliament in Wellington. Photo / George Heard 

"We will be contacting the organisers to begin dialogue with them around this and to set our expectations while also acknowledging a person's right to lawfully protest," said the spokesperson 

Overnight protesters claimed as many as 30 vehicles managed to re-enter the protest area after returning from Sky Stadium, where their offer of free parking had come to an end yesterday. 

Clashes started when a large convoy of protest vehicles made their way along Tinakori Rd and down Bowen St about 10pm. 

A tow truck was used to remove a vehicle in the middle of Whitmore St, and it's understood the car's occupant was removed from his vehicle by police and arrested. 

Police said they would continue to reduce the cordon in the coming days as the "focus remains on returning the city back to normal as quickly as possible". 

Earlier, the Department of Corrections told two sex offenders who've been at the protest at Parliament to leave. 

The department says a small number of people serving community-based sentences or orders with GPS monitoring have attended the demonstration but none have breached their conditions. 

A spokesperson says they must not associate with a person under 16, but being at the same location as children wouldn't be a breach of their conditions, unless they had direct contact. 

But the department says the safety of the community is its top priority, so where it can direct someone not to attend a specific location, it's doing so. 

This includes the two offenders mentioned above, along with a further seven offenders in the Wellington region, subject to extended supervision orders for sexual offending. 

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