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New Zealand police make arrests on third day of COVID vaccination mandate protests

An anti-vaccine mandate protester is detained as people gather to demonstrate in front of the parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, February 10, 2022. REUTERS/Praveen Menon

More than 50 people were arrested and hundreds of demonstrators were forcibly removed from outside New Zealand’s parliament building on Thursday. The demonstrators had camped out to protest COVID-19 vaccine requirements and harsh coronavirus restrictions.

The news: Thousands of protestors with trucks, vehicles, and motorbikes stopped streets near the parliament in Wellington this week, inspired by trucker rallies in Canada, which are now in their 13th day with protesters blocking two border crossings with the United States.

  • Since the pandemic began, New Zealand, a country of five million people, has reported little over 18,000 confirmed cases and 53 deaths. Around 94 per cent of those who are eligible have been vaccinated, with doses being required for some frontline workers.
  • On Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern advised the demonstrators to “move on,” stating that the demonstrations do not reflect the feelings of the majority of New Zealanders. Approximately a thousand protestors remained at the location as of 14.45 local time (0145 GMT), rejecting police warnings and efforts to clear them.
  • “All of us want to actually move on. We are working very hard to put ourselves in the best possible position to do that,” Ardern told reporters after visiting a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Auckland. 
  • Ardern agreed that everyone in New Zealand has the right to demonstrate, but that this should not interfere with the lives of others. She stated that removing demonstrators was a police operation.
Anti-vaccine mandate protesters gather to demonstrate in front of the parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, February 10, 2022. REUTERS/Praveen Menon

What’s going on: Despite receiving praise for keeping the country largely virus-free for the past two years, the new limitations have proven unpopular, with Ardern’s support ratings plummeting in recent polls.

  • Thousands of expatriate New Zealanders face being cut off from their families as borders remain closed, while tourism firms struggle to stay viable.
  • Speaker Trevor Mallard authorised the closing of the grounds surrounding the iconic ‘Beehive’ parliament building on Thursday, prompting activists to assault police officers with drums and obscenities. Some people have been observed throwing empty plastic bottles at police officers.
  • According to a witness, as the throng pushed at the barriers, police yanked them out and forced them to the ground. The audience chanted “Shame on you!” as dozens of people were handcuffed and dragged away.
  • Many demonstrators, who claimed to be vaccinated but opposed vaccine mandates, were seen carrying signs that said “Freedom,” “Leave our kids alone,” and “Let me work.”
Anti-vaccine mandate protesters gather to demonstrate in front of the parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, February 10, 2022. REUTERS/Praveen Menon

What they’re saying: “We are not going anywhere. We will hold the line and see this through,” said one demonstrator who gave his name only as Adam, and said he had come from Palmerston North, about 140 km (87 miles) north of Wellington.   

  • “We want our freedom back,” said another protester, identifying himself as Dave. “Jacinda (Ardern) has turned her back on us. Kiwis are not dumb. We are losing our jobs and our lives due to these mandates and restrictions.”

Those arrested will be charged with trespass and obstruction, and will be bailed to appear in court, according to police. The owners or drivers of vehicles blocking streets around the parliament grounds have also been warned that they would risk enforcement action if they do not remove them.

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