Wellington, New Zealand (AFP) – Some states may send a riot squad to disperse trespassing protesters.. In New Zealand, the authorities turned on the machine guns and Barry Manilow.
Initial moves to try to dislodge several hundred protesters who have been camping on the grassy parliament grounds since Tuesday had little effect.
Protesters, who were expressing their opposition to coronavirus vaccinesresponded to the soaking from sprinklers by digging trenches and installing temporary drainpipes to divert the water.
When it rained on Saturday, their number only increased. The demonstrators brought bales of straw, which they scattered on the increasingly wet grounds of Parliament. Some shouted, others danced and one group of indigenous Maori hakka performed.
By evening, Speaker of Parliament Trevor Mallard had come up with a new plan to make the protesters uncomfortable: using a sound system to blast vaccine messages, decades-old Barry Manilow songs, and the 1990s earworm that hit Macarena on a recurring episode.
Demonstrators responded by playing their own tunes, including the Twister Sister song “We Won’t Take It.”
The protest began when a convoy of trucks and cars drove into Parliament from across the country, inspired by the protests in Canada. At first there were more than 1,000 protesters but that number dwindled as the week went on before rising again on Saturday.
Police have taken a more hands-off approach since Thursday, when they arrested 122 people and charged several of them with trespassing or obstructing their work. Police, wearing protective suits but not using riot gear or carrying guns, tried to advance slowly towards the protesters.
But that led to a number of physical confrontations. A video clip went viral of two policemen briefly dragging a naked woman by her hair in a fight.
In response to questions from the Associated Press, New Zealand police said they did not undress the woman as some people claimed online, and that she was naked “for some time” before her arrest. Police also said that the photos and videos do not provide the full context of the protest activity or the situation the police faced.
However, the scuffles seemed to prompt the police to rethink strategically, which seemed more convinced to wait as the week went on. But by Friday Mallard, the speaker of parliament, had seen enough, and told the staff to turn on the sprinklers overnight.
“I ordered them to stay,” he told The Associated Press.
Mallard said, according to news organization Things.
“Some people have suggested we add the vaccine in the water, but I don’t think it works that way,” he joked.
Mallard told the media that he’s responsible for the sound system episode as well.
Some protesters’ cars remained parked in the middle of the streets surrounding the House of Representatives, which led to the closure of some streets. The National Library and many cafes and bars in the area closed their doors while the protest began. One protester held a medical event on Friday evening and an ambulance was unable to reach him due to vehicle blockages in the streets, leading to delays before receiving treatment, police said.
Among the protesters’ complaints is the demand in New Zealand that some workers be vaccinated against COVID-19, including teachers, doctors, nurses, police and military personnel. Many protesters also oppose the imposition of the mask – such as those in stores and among children over 8 in classrooms – and advocate for the ideal of more “freedom”.
Parliament grounds have often been the site of peaceful protests, although mass camps are unusual. Usually at least some politicians come out to listen to the protesters’ concerns, but the politicians who met in Parliament after the summer recess were in rare unison by not recognizing the protesters.
New Zealand escaped the worst of the pandemic by closing its borders and imposing strict lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus. The nation has reported just 53 virus deaths among its 5 million residents.
But some are tired of the restrictions. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last week that the country would end quarantine requirements for incoming travelers in phases as its borders reopen. With around 77% of New Zealand’s population vaccinated, Ardern has also promised that it will not impose further lockdowns.
The prevalence of the omicron variant is increasing, with New Zealand reporting 454 new community cases on Saturday. But none of the 27 people who were hospitalized after the outbreak had to be in intensive care beds.