Live: Ardern stands by decision not to engage with protesters, heavy police presence remains

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 3 Mar 2022, 7:17am

Live: Ardern stands by decision not to engage with protesters, heavy police presence remains

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 3 Mar 2022, 7:17am

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she stands by her decision not to engage with the anti-vaccine, anti-mandate protesters who occupied Parliament and the surrounding streets for the last 23 days. 

In a press conference on Thursday Ardern said the damage to Parliament is something she never expected to see, and was akin to "a rubbish dump". 

Cleanup continues 

Ardern said she stood by the decision at the beginning to not engage with protesters. From the beginning, media were abused and chased away, there were aggressive statements, and nooses hanging on the front lawn. 

"What we saw was very confronting for us as a country, protest and violence we are not used to here." 

A heavy police presence remains at Parliament and the surrounding streets after a mammoth operation to remove protesters yesterday disbanded the occupation. 

Two more people were arrested for disorder overnight bringing the official number of arrests to 89 – and police say further charges are expected. Police escorted several people off the streets in handcuffs this morning. 

Police said they expect concrete barriers placed on several Wellington streets to block protesters will likely be removed tomorrow. 

"Wellington residents can expect to see police reassurance patrols as they come into the central business district this morning, allowing them to return with confidence. Police would once again like to thank the Wellington community for the support shown to our staff and for their patience with the disruption to our city." 

As police patrol the streets, Wellington City Council is preparing to restore the city to normal after the protesters left Parliament and the surrounding area strewn with rubbish, broken paving stones and other damage. 

The aftermath of the 23-day Covid-19 Convoy protest at Parliament, Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

"Work will be needed to remove rubbish and items left by occupiers, deep-clean street furniture and infrastructure, and to check and repair city assets in the area including roads, signs, lights and wastewater pipes," a council spokesperson said. 

Work is also under way to restore the mana and mauri of the area and plans will be released in the coming days. 

Council chief executive Barbara McKerrow said the past three weeks had been an incredibly challenging and upsetting time for many in the city. 

"Wellingtonians have experienced prolonged disruption to their lives. We fully understand their frustrations and concerns, and are looking forward to returning Wellington to Wellingtonians." 

'Broken' people wandering streets, remaining protesters unwelcome 

In Wellington, a community worker says a large number of "broken" people are stranded in the capital city who were last night wandering the streets , half-naked with nowhere to go. 

Papa Hone, who spent time at the Parliamentary protest site and was involved in police negotiations across the three-week occupation, said a number of adults and their children had nowhere to sleep. 

Police have apprehended a number of people this morning. Photo / Mike Scott 

He said a lot of "confused" people were ringing him for help after their vehicles were impounded and possessions destroyed in yesterday's police operation to reclaim Parliament grounds. 

"There are people that are stuck there with nowhere to go; don't know how they're going to get home." 

He said a number had been picked up and taken to Shelly Bay. 

Further arrests have been made outside Wellington Railway Station Thursday morning. Video / Mike Scott 

Wellington mayor Andy Foster says protesters evicted from Parliament grounds would not be welcome at Shelly Bay. 

The council this morning said it was aware of suggestions that protesters evicted from the occupation at Parliament had parked on the Miramar Peninsula and South Coast, including the Red Rocks Reserve car park in Owhiro Bay. 

Shelly Bay, eamarked for development on the Miramar Peninsula, has been occupied by Mau Whenua since November 2020. 

Huge clean up under way 

A massive clean-up is under way at Parliament after police spent yesterday fighting to regain access to the grounds by kicking out hundreds of anti-vaccine, anti-mandate protesters. 

Police commissioner Andrew Coster says there was "no option" but to move in on the protest, and he stands by the decision – but wishes it hadn't ended like it did. 

03 March 2021 Scenes from Parliament lawn where the clean up after the Convoy Protest and occupation violently ended yesterday. New Zealand Herald photograph by Mike Scott 

He told Mike Hosking police had tried to work with protest organisers but a lack of leadership and cohesion made this impossible. 

"We were left with no option to do what we did yesterday to restore the site. 

"I'm pleased that we've got to here. I never wanted it to end like that, but we did what we had to do." 

Police Association president Chris Cahill this morning told the AM show that the police officers hurt in yesterday's clash suffered "significant but not serious injury". 

Police dodging flying bricks after clearing Parliament's occupiers. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

"Overall, we were pretty lucky given what we saw yesterday that there wasn't some very serious injuries." 

He said an underbelly in the protest was there for a fight and they had their moment yesterday. 

Coster told the AM show police officers hurt in yesterday's clash with protesters suffered non-life-threatening injuries to their head, chest and legs. 

He said the decision to press on was made after the success of the morning operation. 

"We needed to follow through with the momentum that we had." 

"I think the violence that we saw yesterday didn't represent what that protest started as and the people that we had in the end were just gratuitous and spoiling for a fight." 

Asked if he believed we could come through this, as a country, Coster said he believed we could. 

A protester hurling an object at police during the convoy occupation's final salvos. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

"I think as a country, we showed tremendous unity through a very difficult two years." 

Looking over at the mess left behind at Parliament grounds, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson let out a heavy sigh. 

"It's been an incredibly distressing time for Wellingtonians over the past three weeks - not only have they been harassed and spat at and bullied, but they've also seen the city that they love be trashed." 

Diggers have been brought in at Parliament. Photo / Mike Scott 

Robertson said we can never excuse what happened yesterday. 

"It was appalling," he told Breakfast. 

But Robertson acknowledged more needed to be done to stop misinformation being spread in relation to Covid-19 and vaccines. 

That included the Government working closely with some of the world's big social media sites to remind them of their responsibilities around such issues. 

Police patrol central city, protesters reportedly retreat to outer suburbs 

A heavy contingent of police officers is lined up on some central Wellington streets this morning after an infamous day in New Zealand's history in which a 23-day occupation of Parliament by protesters ended in violent and fiery scenes. 

Officers with dogs patrolled the perimeter of the occupation area this morning while others stood in the central streets, ensuring no protesters return. 

Police maintain a big presence on the streets surrounding Parliament where there is evidence of the protesters occupation and violent destruction of its ending. Photo / Mike Scott 

Coster says police will remain in the city and a renewal of the protest "will not be tolerated". 

Mayor Foster thanked police and emergency services for their work to bring the protest under control. 

Police maintain a big presence on the streets surrounding Parliament where there is evidence of the protesters occupation and violent destruction of its ending. Photo / Mike Scott 

"They have done a fantastic job," he said. 

Speaking to TVNZ's Breakfast, Foster said they were now putting together a package to encourage people to come back and visit local businesses. 

"The biggest thing that people can do is to come back into town, to go to a cafe, to go to a shop, to support those businesses – to support those dreams those businesses are about." 

Police storm occupation site – tents on fire, slide torched as Parliament lawn cleared. Video / NZ Herald 

Asked to reflect on the aftermath of the protest just behind him, Foster replied: "It's a mess". 

Wellington's train station has reopened and services resumed after violent protests forced its closure on Wednesday afternoon. 

Metlink said the station has reopened as "the danger seems to have dissipated overnight". 

Some protesters set tents alight as they were shunted off Parliament's lawn by riot police, leading to frightening scenes in front of the Beehive. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she is "angry and deeply saddened" by the "desecration" of Parliament grounds by protesters. 

Although many of the protesters were successfully dispersed, a small group continued to engage in violence into the early evening - hurling bricks, paving stones, rocks, traffic cones, poles and wood at officers. 

Police said the streets around the Parliament precinct were now "generally quiet" although a small number of protesters were still near the Victoria University Pipitea campus. 

"Police will maintain a high level of visibility in and around the Parliament precinct area overnight. Wellingtonians can expect to see police reassurance patrols as they come into the central business district in the morning, allowing them to return with confidence." 

The 87 arrests were for a range of offences including trespass, possession of restricted weapons and wilful damage. 

The seven injured police officers have a range of minor and serious but non-life-threatening injuries. Some injuries were caused by thrown objects. "Staff were also showered with paint, petrol and water from a high-powered fire hose," police said. 

"Police would like to thank the Wellington community for the patience and support shown to our staff." 

How Parliament's protest was obliterated 

Fires and riots broke out at Parliament when police and protesters clashed and a protest occupation site was wiped out. 

Violence intensified mid-afternoon as police built on an early morning breakthrough in nearby streets before dismantling an encampment that had come to seem immovable. 

The occupation ended after 23 days with a major clean-up looming after what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the desecration of New Zealand's Parliament. 

The protesters and occupiers arrived for different reasons, and reacted in different ways when police seized a strategic intersection and then advanced on the camp yesterday. 

Through much of the occupation, many protesters called for an end to Covid-19 vaccine mandates, although other grievances were aired. 

By 3.30pm yesterday, a stream of people were leaving the encampment. 

A woman standing by a makeshift gate protesters had fashioned on steep steps in front of the Beehive said she no longer knew what she was doing. 

Nearby, another woman stood beside a wooden table, turned on its side, with a wreath on top. 

The table had been used to store chalk that people used to draw on a long high wall. 

But the art some protesters and visitors created, much of it celebrating peace and love, was soon overshadowed by smoke from burning tents and trees. 

A lone protester facing police officers in front of burning tents on Wednesday afternoon. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

The woman at the table said she was leaving, as she couldn't afford to get broken bones. 

North of the steps, advancing riot police met resistance as some protesters threw chairs and chunks of wood. 

Explosions were heard sporadically as flammable material in tents ignited. 

One man in the protest camp raised his hands in despair, shaking his head as he walked away from the violence. 

"Get out, it's all on fire," another protester yelled. 

The 23-day occupation of Parliament's grounds has ended. Photo / Mike Scott 

But another implored people nearby to give her a lighter so she could torch a tent. 

As a playground in the gardens burned, a man in the crowd blamed authorities for the chaos and referred to actions in the occupation's first week. 

"Because you aggravated everybody in the night-time and you hit them with your sprays." 

Further down the gardens, some protesters were angry, tearing structures down and throwing materials at police. 

Projectiles included planks of wood, fire extinguishers and metal poles. At 3.30pm, some in the crowd threw rocks and bottles at police. 

More riot police were deployed near the Beehive. Across the garden, police sometimes moved back as projectiles rained down, but their next advance always seemed to capture more ground. 

Police built on territorial gains in the morning to clear protesters from Parliament yesterday afternoon. Photo / Mike Scott 

On the forecourt wall, people stood, virtually all with their phones out as a plume of smoke billowed in the middle of the campsite. 

Some protesters called for milk and poured it over each other's faces after being pepper-sprayed. 

By 4.20pm, a small group of young adults near the main Beehive entrance were agitated, fashioning weapons and throwing bottles at police. 

A young male tried hurling what seemed like a plastic bottle at police but his aim was off and it struck an elderly woman on her head. 

Outrage and confusion erupted among protesters and it seemed a single policeman broke the line, running at the crowd, appearing to inspire his colleagues to do the same. 

This prompted a group of protesters to flee to the steps. 

"Who's got petrol?" one teenager asked at the top of the Beehive steps. 

Further away, a protester yelled: "Burn the Law School, it's timber!" 

Lawn sprinklers, which Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard infamously switched on in the occupation's first week, were turned on again, this time to help damp down the fires. 

Police cleared the gardens, which were left strewn with garbage, flattened tents and debris, but outbursts of violence kept erupting on the fringes. 

A police officer was taken in a stretcher towards waiting paramedics in front of the Beehive. 

A few minutes later, another policeman with a head injury emerged, bloodied. 

On the far side of the CBD, armed police with gas canisters exited a truck on Courtenay Pl. 

Closer to Parliament and shortly before 6pm, police appeared to fire rubber bullets and rioters retreated. 

Colleagues help a police officer injured during clashes with protesters on Wednesday. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

By early evening, 87 people had been arrested for offences including trespass, wilful damage, and possession of restricted weapons. 

Up to 50 vehicles were towed and about 30 more left, police said. 

Police blocked the road and footpath between the Cenotaph and Lambton Quay. 

Rioters tore up bricks from paving to throw at police and a car reportedly tried driving into police on Bunny St. 

"No guys no," a protester pleaded, trying but failing to stop people ripping up the bricks. "This is not what we came here for." 

The Wellington Live Facebook page said a dark-coloured station wagon drove at police. 

"This is just too much, Wellington," a correspondent on the page said. 

Police turned a fire hose on some protesters near Parliament, and rioters threw a rock and smashed glass doors to Victoria University's Pipitea Campus. 

By 6.15pm, protesters were spread across Featherston Rd, as rush-hour traffic continued. But the crowd appeared to have been greatly dispersed. 

Police then moved into Victoria University's Law School, ripping up tents. 

As night fell, police urged people to keep away from CBD areas near the railway station, Pipitea campus, and northern end of Lambton Quay. 

A volunteer group called The Big Clean-Up offered to clear out rubbish and other waste to make the area safe. 

National Party MP Mark Mitchell, a former policeman, said cops showed restraint and intent yesterday. 

"In actual fact, in terms of what they're facing, and what the whole country has seen what they're facing, the outcome is as good as we could have hoped for." 

Earlier, police took control of key intersections as a depleted and seemingly deflated group of protesters lost ground. 

In a clinical series of moves unlike any seen previously in the occupation, police swooped around the protest perimeter. 

By 6.30am, it seemed at least 125 police were on Mulgrave St, before crossing the Aitken St line where concrete barriers were placed. 

Emotional, sometimes desperate scenes emerged near the Court of Appeal after some protesters were pepper-sprayed yesterday morning. 

By 6.47am, police had taken control of the National Library, opposite the Court of Appeal and diagonally opposite Parliament's gardens. 

The police movement cut multiple protest groups off from each other. 

One protest spokesman, Leighton Baker, said the Human Rights Commission had been asked to attend the protest.  
"This has from day dot been a peaceful protest and we're going to keep it that way," he said on a Facebook Live interview in the morning. 

At the barrier near the Cenotaph, a man in an orange hi-vis vest yelled into a road cone to amplify his voice, saying police were using excessive force. 

"This is not okay. This is disgraceful behaviour by our New Zealand Police Force." 

A man on a pushbike gave him the thumbs up, and a woman yelled "bullsh*t". 

- Reporting by: John Weekes, Michael Neilson, Nick James