Covid 19 Omicron Parliament protest: Police move in again after barrier moved, occupiers warn of weekend resurgence

* Police ramp up actions as tensions rise at Parliament occupation
* Police, Maritime NZ fear private vessels crossing Cook Strait to join protest
* Tempers flare – police say ‘genuine protesters no longer in control’

Corrections has told two sex offenders who’ve been at the protest at Parliament, now in its third week, to leave.

It comes after Police and protesters clashed on Parliament grounds on Wednesday night following the removal of at least one concrete bollard near the site of the occupation to let vehicles in.

Protesters claim as many as 30 vehicles managed to re-enter the area after returning from Sky Stadium. Police had earlier warned their offer of free parking for these vehicles – which had choked Wellington streets – would expire at the end of the day.

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

A member of the public told the Herald there were about 30 vehicles with their hazard lights flashing. Protesters then started tweeting they had moved a bollard and were letting more vehicles in.

Meanwhile the Corrections 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 to 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 above, along with a further seven offenders in the Wellington region, subject to extended supervision orders for sexual offending.

Earlier Police Minister Poto Williams told Newstalk ZB’s Kate Hawkesby there had been some really positive developments occur this week including protesters choosing to leave the site.

“I’m confident in the work police are doing and I really support them to continue to do that and to move this to resolution as soon as we can.”

“I don’t think the police are the bad guys here. I think the bad guys are the ones who are unlawfully protesting at parliament and behaving in a way that is clearly a lot more than unreasonable.

“In many cases it’s offensive.”

She said police were doing an extraordinary job of keeping people who live and work in the area safe, and it was her job to make sure police had the resources to do that.

“We really want to restore Wellington back to the people of Wellington,” she said.

“It’s been a matter of negotiating with those who are able to be negotiated with and ensuring that the police are able to put in a tactical response so we can resolve this as quickly as possible.”

She described it as a “tricky situation” and said law enforcement was about getting the capital back to normal.

It comes after police made several efforts to add bollards to the camp’s boundary to prevent people from joining, and follows violent clashes between the groups after an early-morning police operation on Tuesday.

Three police officers were injured and three protesters arrested in the skirmishes.

It also came as the Ministry of Health confirmed two Covid-19 cases among protesters, along with at least five cases among police officers working on the operation.

One protester claimed about 30 vehicles entered the occupied area on Wednesday night after protesters moved a concrete bollard, allowing traffic to come through.

Protesters could be seen yelling at police officers as a forklift brought in another barricade. Others were urging protesters to “keep your hands off the cops”.

A tow truck was used to remove a vehicle in the middle of Whitmore St.

It’s understood the car’s occupant was removed from his vehicle by police and arrested.

In a statement, police confirmed a car had been towed after it attempted to enter the protest area at Bowen St, near the cenotaph, but insisted “constructive discussions with protesters are ongoing”.

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”.

Riot police were seen leaving Hill St shortly after 11pm after they lined up near the concrete bollard boundary, while more than 100 protesters chanted “love and peace”.

Protesters spoken to said the police blockade made life more difficult in their “village”.

A woman who helped set up the food station in the centre of Molesworth St said food donations were dropped at blockades several hundred metres away.

Protesters were using vehicles internally to transport the donated goods.

“They are trying to make things uncomfortable for us, subtly antagonising us to break down our morale, but we are like water – solutions will flow.”

On Wednesday, the once full streets surrounding Parliament were down to about a third of Saturday’s peak levels, with mainly just a steadfast crew remaining.

The Herald viewed rubbish bags piling up and a generally subdued atmosphere in the internal camp.

The atmosphere in the outer areas was tenser, with some people drinking alcohol at their campsites and vans, visibly intoxicated, and some continuing to intimidate journalists and passers-by.

Many protesters have left since the weekend, some because the atmosphere became increasingly tense and violent because of a “few hotheads”.

There has been infighting among groups present, suggestions of sexual assaults and some protest leaders have called for children to be taken offsite.

Police have seemingly capitalised on this infighting, launching operations on Monday evening and the early hours of Tuesday to install concrete blockades, operating a one-way policy.

These actions also saw some of the most violent scenes since the first few days of the protest, including officers hospitalised after being sprayed with an “unknown substance”, a car nearly being driven into police and arrested protesters reporting injuries.

Protesters had been allowed to park for free at Sky Stadium but from today will be charged $15 a day. Police were also preparing to help move people on.

Police said they will maintain a presence at the site but refused to discuss tactics.

Crime and justice expert Dr Jarrod Gilbert said police were clearly regaining control, which would be “welcomed by most New Zealanders”.

When it had become clear actions of protesters were moving “above and beyond what any see as reasonable and acceptable” police had suitably stepped up their actions, Gilbert said.

“It is a dynamic situation and police need to be nimble enough to change strategy.”

The risk of going hard too early risked criticism of shutting down a protest, while also going harder with more violence could create a “far bigger problem than the one we are facing”, he said.

Gilbert said given all the dynamics at play it was “impossible” to say exactly how the occupation could or should play out.

“There is a seemingly endless number of complaints. You are not dealing with one group but dozens and, within those, they represent reasonable concerns right through to desperate extremists who see some sort of revolution as necessary.

“Adding to that is an undercurrent of terrible disinformation.”

In the past few days, protesters have blamed an escalation in violence on police agitators planted in the crowd and even suggested the substance thrown at officers was police pepper – claims strongly dismissed by police.

Gilbert said many people would hope the current containment approach would be successful and protesters would continue to trickle out.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster has met twice with protesters seeking a peaceful resolution.

“We can all stand on the sidelines and say ‘please go’ but that’s not actually going to achieve that, it’s only when you’re getting in there and listening to people and talking to people when you actually have a chance of getting a result.”

Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt also called on the Government to listen to the protesters, leading a “conciliatory process” in an effort to de-escalate the situation.

Hunt met representatives from Voices for Freedom and the Human Rights Commission, as well as Police, Freedom and Rights Coalition and independents.

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