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Fires, fire extinguishers, and pitchforks: NZ police move to end three-week COVID vaccine mandate protest

Protesters have fought police with fire extinguishers and pitchforks as officers moved to end an anti-vaccine mandate protest in New Zealand’s capital three weeks after it began.

The protesters had been outside Wellington’s Parliament Buildings for 23 days when police in riot gear moved in early on Wednesday morning.

Protesters used projectiles, shields, fire extinguishers, and pitchforks to fight police, as officers began dismantling protesters’ tents and towing vehicles.

Police move in to clear the protester village

Sixty people were arrested and at least three police officers injured during the operation to clear the parliament lawn.


Pepper spray was used against some protesters.

At one stage, the parliament building – known colloquially as The Beehive – was under a thick cloud of smoke from a number of fires on the lawn.

Fire and Emergency NZ later confirmed there had been no injuries as a result of the fires.

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Local media reported loud bangs and explosion sounds.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster had been criticised for not being tough enough on the hundreds of protesters.

But on Wednesday he said that the time had come to clear the roads of Wellington.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern echoed those words, saying: “Those protesters illegally occupying parliament grounds and surrounding streets have been given ample opportunity to leave.

“It’s time for them to go.”

Protesters use milk to counteract the effects of tear gas
Protesters use milk to counteract the effects of tear gas

The protesters had modelled their action on the Canadian truckers’ protests, which were mostly shut down by police last month.

The New Zealand demonstrations began as a stand against COVID-19 vaccine mandates but morphed into a gathering for people against any pandemic-related restrictions, with a sprinkling of those who generally opposed Ms Ardern’s policies.

Kate Siegert is unvaccinated and said she had lost her job in IT because her industry – healthcare – was among those to fall under laws requiring employees to be vaccinated.

She said she had made several trips from her home in Auckland to the protest.

“We are fighting for our standard of life,” she said. “We want our sovereign right to our bodies.”

Lisa Suasua has been at the protest for weeks and vowed to stay until the end.

She described the police response as “pretty brutal”, adding: “They don’t talk – they ask us to move on.”

New Zealand has a vaccination rate of about 95% among those aged 12 and over.

It benefitted from strict lockdowns and tight border controls early in the pandemic but is now seeing record levels of new cases.

On Wednesday more than 22,000 new cases were reported, although the real number is likely to be higher due to long waits for test results and difficulty getting rapid tests, which have only recently come into public use.


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