blog march 2

Live UpdatesMar 2 2022

Latest: PM condemns ‘attack on our values’ at parliament as clashes continue

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 2, I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Want to get in touch? I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


What you need to know

  • The prime minister has condemned violent scenes at parliament today as police attempted to take back the parliamentary precinct.
  • Several fires were started on parliament grounds, threatening trees and the $500,000 children’s playground.
  • Projectiles were hurled at police, who retaliated with fire hoses.
  • A number of police have been injured, with most treated at the scene.
  • In Covid news: 405 people are now in hospital. There were more than 22,000 new community cases announced today.
blog march 2

Latest: PM condemns ‘attack on our values’ at parliament as clashes continue

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 2, I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Want to get in touch? I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


What you need to know

  • The prime minister has condemned violent scenes at parliament today as police attempted to take back the parliamentary precinct.
  • Several fires were started on parliament grounds, threatening trees and the $500,000 children’s playground.
  • Projectiles were hurled at police, who retaliated with fire hoses.
  • A number of police have been injured, with most treated at the scene.
  • In Covid news: 405 people are now in hospital. There were more than 22,000 new community cases announced today.
Mar 2 2022

Could more have been done to prevent parliament protest? PM to launch review

The prime minister has indicated there will be a review of the protest occupation at parliament to determine if more could have been done to prevent it from happening, reports RNZ.

Jacinda Ardern said two pieces of work will be completed, with one of the aims being to ensure parliamentary security is sufficient, according to the report. Enforcement powers, police resources and any threats to critical infrastructure will also be looked at.

Podcast: Gone By Lunchtime on the parliament occupation, omicron and more

Gone By Lunchtime‘s Annabelle Lee-Mather and Toby Manhire were joined by The Spinoff’s political editor Justin Giovannetti this morning to talk about the latest from the parliamentary occupation and the government’s response. Did Jacinda Ardern get it right? Was Chris Luxon right to diagnose a New Zealand divided? And should the action be called “an anti-mandate protest” or is it something else? Also: the dramatic wave of omicron washing across the country, Ashley Bloomfield’s mea culpa on a big overestimation of PCR test lab capacity and the New Zealand response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Follow Gone By Lunchtime on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

Police fire rubber bullets; car drives at police

As the prime minister spoke at the Beehive, just metres away protesters gained control of a fire hose and turned it on police.

Protesters turn a fire hose on police; and police line up outside the law school (Photos: Screengrab; Justin Giovannetti)

Loud bangs, believed to be fireworks, have been heard. A car reversed at speed towards the police line before speeding way.

Police appear to be firing “sponge rounds”, or rubber bullets, at protesters.

Another fire has been lit, on Bunny St near Victoria University’s law school at Old Government Buildings. A glass door has been smashed at the neighbouring business school.

According to a police update there have been 65 arrests today, “for a range of offences including trespass, wilful damage, and possession of restricted weapons”.

Up to 50 vehicles have been towed and around another 30 departed, and three police staff are being treated in hospital “for non-life-threatening injuries”.

A smashed glass door at Rutherford House at Victoria University’s Pipitea campus (Photo: RNZ)

Meanwhile, a pizza delivery has made it into parliament.

 

20% of Middlemore beds filled by Covid-positive patients

One week ago, there were 68 Covid-positive patients at Middlemore hospital. According to today’s Ministry of Health numbers, that has more than doubled to 142. As the number of new cases in Tāmaki Makaurau continues to surge, with more than 13,000 recorded today, and given the lag between new confirmed cases and hospitalisations, that seems likely only to climb more steeply.

Dr Pete Watson, the chief medical officer for Counties Manukau Health, told The Spinoff that the many different types of bed meant it was difficult to say precisely what proportion of the hospital was now filled with Covid cases. But, he said, “We have approximately 20% of our acute adult medical/surgical inpatient beds occupied by Covid-positive patients.”

Of the 405 Covid hospitalisations across New Zealand, 306 are at Auckland hospital. Writing for the Spinoff yesterday, Elspeth Frascatore, an emergency department doctor at Auckland City Hospital – which currently has 108 Covid-positive patients – described the reality in managing “the sheer volume of patients in our hospitals or arriving at our doors”.

PM condemns ‘attack on our values’ at parliament as clashes continue

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has condemned those responsible for the violence seen at parliament today. “We will never ever excuse it. It was an attack on our frontline police. It was an attack on our parliament. It was an attack on our values and it was wrong,” she said at a press conference at the Beehive this evening.

“One day it will be our day to try and understand how a group of people could succumb to such wild mis- and disinformation.”

“When we look back on this period in our history, I hope we remember one thing. Thousands more lives were saved over the past two years by your actions as New Zealanders than were on the front lawn of parliament today.”

On seeing fires lit by protesters today, Ardern said she was “both angry and deeply saddened”. “This demonstrates one of the reasons why we refused to engage with this group,” she said.

“I am absolutely committed that we will restore these grounds and we will not be defined by the actions of a small group of people.

“There are words I cannot use for what I saw today. Witnessing the hurling of weapons… LPG bottles thrown onto flames. I felt anger at what I was seeing but I also felt resolute,” she said.

Ardern said there had been various injuries sustained by frontline police, most of which were able to be treated on site.

“The presence of children has hampered the actions of police,” said Ardern. “Today I saw children present, in was in much smaller numbers but I know police were mindful.”

Asked her thoughts on parents who were prepared to bring their kids into this environment, she said: “I don’t have words for it.”

Arden said there were around 270 protesters involved today. “It takes only a relatively small group of people to cause destruction should they so choose.

“We are not going to dismiss some of the underlying causes of what we’ve seen,” she added, “but nor will we excuse it. As we go through a process of assessing what has allowed the growth of mis- and disinformation in this country and how do we address that. We will be at pains to ensure it never becomes an excuse for the violent acts that it resulted in.”

Ardern said there was an element of this protest that did not feel like New Zealand. “There has been foreign influence in what we’ve seen… in terms of the disinformation that has been sourced out of other countries.”

On those still hurling projectiles at police, Ardern said, “My hope is they put down their weapons long enough for the police to arrest them.”

Ardern wanted to reassure Wellingtonians that there would be a substantial police presence in the city in the aftermath of today’s events.

Shop around for RATs, warns Consumer NZ

Consumers are being warned to shop around for over-the-counter Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs), with prices varying markedly around the country.

Some pharmacies are charging up to $74.99 for a five-pack of RATs, a home-test kit that allows users to find out in 15 minutes if they are suffering Covid-19.

The warning comes from Consumer NZ, who found prices varying between $6.50 to $19 a test. A spokesperson cautioned anyone wanting to stock up on RATs to shop around.

“Some consumers have concerns about price gouging after exorbitant markups on protective face masks such as the N95,” said head of content Caitlin Cherry. “We would expect RATs to range from $6.50 to $15, so if you do find extremely expensive tests for sale, you are entitled to ask a retailer why pricing is so high.”

Australia has banned markups on RATs of more than 20% after multiple reports of price gouging, including two tests going for $500.

The lowest price Consumer NZ found was at Warehouse Stationary, where a five-pack is being sold for $31.99, or $6.40 per test.

“If you do want to have a few RATs up your sleeve for peace of mind, ensure you’re purchasing them for a price that is fair,” warned Cherry.

Anyone caught charging too much for RATs could find itself in breach of the Fair Trading Act, she says.

RATs are free for anyone experiencing symptoms of Covid-19, like a sore throat, cough or runny nose. Find your nearest testing station here.

Cobblestones hurled at police; PM to speak at 5.30pm

Cobblestones lifted from parliament’s driveway are being thrown at police, who have turned fire hoses on the remaining group of occupiers in response. A woman on a livestream can be heard saying “we’re not going anywhere, it’s just water. It’s bullying tactics.”

Meanwhile, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, is holding a press conference at 5.30pm. We’ll bring you all the details here (and hopefully a livestream).

Most of parliament cleared, protesters remain outside

Parliament grounds now look to be under full police control, with the current scene in stark contrast to images from the past few weeks. Our political editor Justin Giovannetti estimates that 95% of the parliament precinct has now been taken by the police, with just the area in front of the main gate uncleared.

But protesters outside the gates are throwing anything they can get their hands on – fire extinguishers, chairs, road cones and ripped up street signs – and portaloos have been tipped over. Another fire started outside the gates was quickly hosed down by firefighters now in attendance.

Protesters are now mostly by the cenotaph in front of the Beehive, by the corner of Bowen St and Lambton Quay. Meanwhile, rush hour has begun in Wellington, with commuters up and down neighbouring Lambton Quay.

Commuters outside the Supreme Court on Lambton Quay (Photo: Justin Giovannetti)
A fire engine on Bowen St outside the Beehive (Photo: Justin Giovannetti)

Our political editor Justin Giovannetti estimates only around 100 protesters remain. Many of those who left tried to salvage the remnants of “Freedom Village”, including boxes of food, chairs and a barbecue.

Piles of items salvaged from the occupation, at the corner of Molesworth and Bunny Sts, with the railway station behind (Photo: Justin Giovannetti)

Protesters flee parliament grounds as riot police move in

Riot police have made it to the final group of standing tents on parliament grounds.

Officers are now contending with several live fires along with protesters hurling makeshift projectiles. Officers are using an angle grinder to cut through locks on fences as they come forward with fire extinguishers.

The area immediately in front of parliament has now been cleared out, according to our political editor Justin Giovannetti.

As the riot police continue their push through parliament grounds, dozens of protesters have spilled down the steps towards Bowen Street.

Officers are continuing their push down Molesworth.

One livestreamer has reported the sound of explosions. It’s believed to be gas canisters near one of the large blazes on parliament grounds.

Smoke reflected in the Beehive windows

Protesters have reportedly been told to convene at the nearby railway station.

Several tents are now fully alight on parliament grounds. Nearby trees are starting to catch fire.

Parliament grounds now look to be under full police control, with the current scene in stark contrast to images from the past few weeks. Our political editor Justin Giovannetti estimates that 95% of the parliament precinct has now been taken by the police, with just the area in front of the main gate uncleared.

Live footage from outside parliament shows protesters hurriedly clearing anything they can before police move in.

Protesters set multiple fires on parliament grounds

Protesters have set several fires on parliament grounds, initially using a collapsed tent to begin the blaze.

Wood has since been added with the smoke now billowing high into the sky. The children’s playground on parliament grounds, including the $240,000 slide, has started to catch fire.

The playground was a passion project of house speaker Trevor Mallard, who has been informed of the blaze. His response was unhappy, immediate and can’t be published.

While the fires were reportedly started by protesters, not all are onboard with the tactic. It’s prompted scuffles to break out within those on parliament grounds: “You’re putting your own people in danger!” said one. “What the fuck is wrong with these people,” said prominent protester Chantelle Baker.

At least one tree is being closely threatened by the blaze.

Throughout the day, protesters have been using fire extinguishers as weapons against the police.

“The heat is so intense that the police are having to move back,” said one livestreamer.

(Image / Screenshot)

Our political editor says acrid smoke is now filling the air above parliament and ash has started to rain down.

Police move in on parliament, protesters retaliate with fire extinguishers

Police have moved onto the main parliamentary grounds, using pepper spray as protesters retaliate with fire extinguishers and makeshift shields.

Tents are being ripped down and protesters are being told they face arrest. A repeated message, played over loud speaker, asks people to take their belongings and leave parliament grounds.

(Image / livestream)

There are around 200 officers out in front of the Beehive, according to our political editor Justin Giovannetti. Police have begun dismantling tents in front of the parliamentary library and on the front lawn.

A livestream from parliament shows protesters throwing basically anything they can at officers. One livestreamer said that protesters were throwing “poles” at officers. “Stop throwing things,” some protesters retorted, attempting to keep the peace.

Protesters were playing the national anthem over a loud speaker, but that’s been overwhelmed by the yelling and chanting from occupiers on the front line. “Police state communism,” yelled one protester. “This is on you, Jacinda.”

In unison, a number of protesters were chanting: “Shame on you.”

Officers ripping down tents (Photo / livestream)

In a brief statement, police advised people to avoid the area around parliament. Officers can be seen being attended to by medics. A line of officers, with riot shields, has been stationed in front of parliament buildings itself.

Earlier, a protester was seen posing for a selfie in front of the line of moving officers. Firecrackers have reportedly been set off in the crowd.

“I feel sorry for the officers who don’t want to be here,” one protester said.

Police move in (Image / Justin Giovannetti)

3.40pm: Pile of broken tents grows as protesters throw pot plants and potatoes

The northern end of the grass is covered in a growing pile of broken tents and equipment, said Justin Giovannetti. “It’s impressively large. Parliamentary security is helping pull the tents away.”

As the riot squad approaches the pathway at the middle of the parliament grounds, it appears protesters are now throwing potted plants at the police.

“You are on the wrong side of history,” yelled a protester at the line of officers. “This is out of order! New Zealand police you are out of order.”

Image / Livestream

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(Photo: Chris Chivers)

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Protesters had ‘ample opportunity to leave’ – Jacinda Ardern

Protesters facing off with police today had “ample opportunity to leave” the parliamentary precinct.

At least 36 protesters have been arrested and 15 vehicles towed during an ongoing stand-off that began at 6am. In recent weeks, the camp has become linked to Covid-19, with at least 17 cases connected to the occupation.

Speaking at parliament, Jacinda Ardern reiterated that it was time for the occupiers to go. “It will be obvious to those who work in or around parliament that the protest has become increasingly violent,” she said. Misinformation and conspiracy theories have been promulgated by those involved, added Ardern, who said that “whatever point the protesters were making at the beginning was made”.

Ardern thanked frontline police officers for facing both “disgraceful behaviour [and] Covid-19”.

Covid-19 update: 405 now in hospital, 22,152 new community cases

The number of Covid-related hospitalisations has crossed the 400 mark. There are now 405 people with Covid-19 seeking treatment, including 10 in intensive care.

Most of those in hospital are in Middlemore, 142, while 108 are in Auckland Hospital.


There are 22,152 new community cases of Covid-19 – the highest daily count on record. It’s the first day where more than 20,000 cases have been registered.

More than 120,000 people currently have Covid-19 in New Zealand.

“It’s great to see more than 60% of eligible Māori across the motu have now received a booster dose,” said a Ministry of Health spokesperson. “This milestone is an opportunity to celebrate the mahi of staff at vaccine clinics, health providers and iwi who have led the way to ensure Māori are well protected against Covid-19.”

86% of the eligible New Zealand population aged five and older have now received at least one dose. 80% are fully vaccinated. About 72% of the eligible population have received a booster, and 51% of five to 12s have received one dose.

Speaking at parliament, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told people not to stockpile rapid antigen tests. He said that they can be less accurate if they are older.

The ministry said 51,794 people have self-reported RAT results through My Covid Record. “We’re continuing to remind people to self-report positive results… through My Covid Record to help us understand the size of the outbreak.”

Hipkins said they will be making changes to the regulations to school sports in the coming week or two. Young people participating in a school-organised activity don’t have to be vaccinated, he said.

Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins announced new measures to deal with Omicron at a Beehive press conference. (Photo: Getty Images)

Location of new cases

Northland (382), Auckland (13,231), Waikato (2,139), Bay of Plenty (1,270), Lakes (415), Hawke’s Bay (273), MidCentral (367), Whanganui (56), Taranaki (261), Tairāwhiti (137), Wairarapa (91), Capital and Coast (1,115), Hutt Valley (473), Nelson Marlborough (272), Canterbury (1,033), South Canterbury (36), Southern (578), West Coast (15); Unknown (8).

Justin Giovannetti: ‘Peace and love’ turns to anger at parliament

The yoga and happy vibes part of the Wellington protest seems to have largely melted away after police commissioner Andrew Coster’s announcement that officers won’t stop until parliament is cleared. Instead, there’s a much angrier vibe around the camp, with some of the remaining protesters building barricades at exits to the grounds, readying for a fight.

While the number of vehicles and tents is clearly smaller, it’s not significantly so. Walking around at noon was the first time in the nearly one month that the protest has been outside parliament that there’s a clear and overpowering sense that this is not a safe space. There are few large crowds, just small groups that are congregating and seem to be considering their next moves. Before approaching a group of protesters, I instinctively looked for the cleanest escape route and nearest police presence. My intrusion was not welcome.

At this point, it seems like a small but hardened core remains.

Rise in ‘concerning behaviour’ triggered today’s action, says police commissioner

A rise in “concerning behaviour” among protesters triggered today’s decision by police to move in to try to clear roads around parliament grounds.

Police commissioner Andrew Coster said 36 people have been arrested – fewer than the 60 a police media release reported earlier. In addition, 15 vehicles have been towed. A significant amount of ground previously under occupation had been claimed back during the operation.

“In the last week we have seen a changing mix in the makeup of the crowd,” Coster told media. “In particular, we have become concerned that those with good intentions are now outnumbered by those with the willingness to use violence to effect their means. We have observed an escalation in concerning behaviour which has ultimately resulted in today’s action.”

Coster confirmed three officers had been injured by protesters, including one from a paint projectile, but said they were already back on the frontline.

“We reached a point where protest leaders were either unwilling or unable to effect meaningful change,” said Coster. “This has never been about preventing lawful protest [but] the harm being done has outweighed any meaningful protest.”

Police commissioner Andrew Coster (Photo: Mark Mitchell – Pool/Getty Images)

Deescalation was the preferred method, said Coster, but “the balance has tipped and now is the time to bring this to an end”.

Coster could not provide a timeline for when this operation would end or even whether the protest would end today. “We will continue this operation until it is completed,” he said. “When the job is done, then we will be finished.”

Asked how many officers were involved in today’s operation, Coster said “hundreds” had been brought in from around the country in addition to the officers already in Wellington.

Anyone who still had their vehicle illegally parked on the streets around parliament should move it before it gets towed, said Coster.

Despite claims that protesters may have been tipped off about today’s operation, Coster said this was only speculation. He was not aware of any protesters being told about the planned action.

A note about The Spinoff Members

Our coverage of the ongoing protest in Wellington and the omicron outbreak would not be possible without the support of The Spinoff Members.

You can help us from as little as $1. Tautoko mai, join The Spinoff Members today

Three police officers injured as protesters use ‘paint-filled projectiles and pitchforks’

At least three police officers have been injured near parliament this morning during a large “pre-planned” operation that’s entering its fifth hour.

Hundreds of officers, many in full riot gear, moved in on streets around parliament at 6am this morning.

In a statement, police said they were disappointed to see protesters in posession of various weapons. “These included, but were not limited to, the use fire extinguishers as weapons, a cord set up as a trip wire, paint-filled projectiles, homemade plywood shields and pitchforks,” said a spokesperson.

Livestreams from Wellington appear to show officers moving more concrete bollards into place. Shower units and toilets have been seized by police.

“Police want to reiterate this is not an appropriate place for children and we are working with staff from Oranga Tamariki,” said a statement. “At least” 10 children have been spotted on parliament grounds, said police.

Police action gives online boost to protest movement – disinformation expert

Police actions in Wellington have given a huge online boost to protesters, according to researcher Dr Sanjana Hattotuwa, from The Disinformation Project.

Hattotuwa had previously observed the way in which the February 10 police confrontation was a seismic event within New Zealand’s disinformation circles. “February 10 was an unprecedented moment within the disinformation landscape,” says Hattotuwa. “Just a small number of accounts exceeded the combined mainstream media impact by orders of magnitude.”

In only a few hours so far today, the impact of police actions has exceeded even that of the February event, according to early research by The Disinformation Project. “However you measure it — concurrent viewers, engagements, comments — on Telegram and Facebook, whatever metric, it has already exceeded by early today what we saw on the 10th of February.

“It’s worrying because, as was the case on the 10th, the content that’s spreading widely obviously reflects the protester viewpoints and incorporates a lot of mis- and disinformation,” Hattotuwa observes.

By 10am, the concurrent live viewers on just a handful of protester livestreams exceeded 25,000, and the police actions were essentially the only subject of discussion on anti-vax, Covid denial and conspiracy theory channels and groups online. 

Is this the beginning of the end for the Wellington occupation?

As police began an operation that seems poised to clear the streets around parliament after nearly a month-long occupation, one protester picked up a traffic cone and stood at the top of the steps outside the Beehive. He raised the cone to his mouth and yelled down Lambton Quay: “People of Wellington, join us. There are women and children here.”

Down on the street, stopped at a red light, a motorist rolled down her window. It’s likely she didn’t hear the man or his makeshift megaphone over the whumpf of rotor blades from an orbiting police helicopter. Instead, she called over to the nearest police officer. “Thank you so much for doing this,” and gave her a thumbs up.

(Photo by DAVE LINTOTT/AFP via Getty Images)

About 300 metres away, a line of riot police was holding back most of the protest just below the intersection of Hill and Molesworth streets. It was just after 9 am. North of the line, illegally parked vehicles were being towed away. The middle of the protest for the past month was on the stretch of Molesworth, just south of the police line. Some of the large tents there were being removed by protesters. Using real megaphones, police warned the protest that anyone on parliament grounds or the streets surrounding it had to leave. Anyone trying to stop police faced arrest.

I caught whiffs of what might have been pepper spray, but after two years of the pandemic, it just smelled like hand sanitiser. A woman ran past in tears. A man was on his phone, yelling at whoever was on the other end that his car was being towed. Noticing me taking pictures, a group of protesters yelled: “We don’t need help from anyone with a mask”. My presence was not welcome. Not everyone in Wellington is needed, just maskless fellow travellers.

Photo: Justin Giovannetti

If police have decided to end the protest, the operation to remove the cars and tents that have become a permanent fixture around parliament could last many hours.

Latest: 60 people now arrested near parliament, police continue towing vehicles

The number of arrests around parliament has climbed to 60.

That’s an increase of 40 in about an hour.

Police said they are continuing to tow vehicles illegally parked around the parliament grounds. “We have commenced towing larger vehicles, including trucks, vans and campervans,” said a statement.

“We will continue to work with partner agencies to assist us with the safe movement of people, including helping them get their vehicles out safely if they wish to do so.”

Earlier, police expressed concern for the “at least” 10 children present on parliament grounds. Oranga Tamariki would be getting involved.

(Photo by DAVE LINTOTT/AFP via Getty Images)

A protester could be heard telling police that they should stop arresting protesters and “go and arrest Jacinda”.

Meanwhile, former journalist turned prominent anti-vaccination protester, Liz Gunn, told the crowd: “we will turn the old parliament building into a sort of Holocaust museum”.

Police concerned for ‘at least’ 10 children still within protest zone

Police have concerns for “at least” 10 children that have been seen within the protest area in Wellington this morning.

Officers clad in riot gear are on the move, with pepper spray being used against occupiers. In return, protesters have been seen with makeshift shields made out of plywood.

“Police want to reiterate this is not an appropriate place for children and we continue to urge those with young ones to pack up and go home,” said a statement. “We are working with Oranga Tamariki staff in this morning’s operation.”

Police said they will help any protester who wants to leave the area – and will help them get their vehicles out safely.

Does milk work against pepper spray?

In the scenes around parliament as police mount a big operation against the occupation this morning, there has been a lot of milk flowing. Why? In keeping with clashes around the world in recent years, protesters are using milk in an attempt to clear their eyes of pepper spray. They’d probably be better advised to simply use water, however.

A spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians told ABC News after clashes in Baltimore in 2015: “People who are pepper sprayed in the face should flush their eyes in a water fountain or by scooping handfuls of water up into open eyes. Afterwards they should wash their entire face with a gentle, non-oil based soap and place an ice pack wrapped in a towel over their face and eyes to cool the burning sensation.” While milk was unlikely to cause damage and may immediately feel more soothing owing to coolness, it’s not sterile.

What is pepper spray? Its formal name is “oleoresin capsicum spray”, reflecting its extraction from a capsicum-style pepper. It operates as a “lachrymatory agent”, a chemical compound that inflames the eyes’ corneal nerves triggering pain and tears, and in some cases causing blindness for a few seconds. All New Zealand officers carry OC spray when on active duty and are required to report, record and explain the reasoning for every use.

Riot police on the move near parliament

Police in full riot gear – more than just shields and face guards – have been brought in to help move protesters off Wellington streets.

Protesters are bringing large plywood shields to the frontline.

Officers have also been seen donning goggles, with protesters speculating that police might be about to use tear gas or more pepper spray.

Full riot gear (Image / Screenshot)

While many of the occupiers on parliament grounds appear to be staying put, our political editor Justin Giovannetti said he saw tents being dismantled on nearby Molesworth Street. He also observed an “inordinate amount of coughing” – though whether from pepper spray or sickness is not known.

Police in riot gear (Screenshot)

Protesters are asking for more milk as they aim to counter the effect of being pepper sprayed. Commenters on a livestream have been offering to deliver more throughout the day.

Milk on a car (Photo: Justin Giovannetti)

Around 20 arrested near parliament, vehicles now being towed

Around 20 protesters have been arrested this morning during a large operation in the area around parliament.

Police said they have also started towing vehicles on the neighbouring streets. “We are once again urging people inside the protest area to leave now,” said a police statement.

“Our staff are ready to assist those who wish to leave.”

Wellingtonians are urged to avoid the area this morning and the streets around parliament remain closed.

The towing begins (Photo: Justin Giovannetti)

Some protesters appear to be self-policing their fellow occupiers; one person just had their fire extinguisher confiscated after intending to spray cops.

Police gain ‘significant’ ground around parliament

Police said they have gained “significant” ground around parliament this morning.

A large operation, involving hundreds of officers, has been under way since around 6am this morning. Footage has shown officers ripping down tents pitched on streets around parliament grounds. Protesters report being pepper sprayed.

In a statement, a police spokesperson urged anyone wishing to leave the protest area to speak to an officer. “We will work to facilitate their safe exit from the area,” said the statement.

“Protesters have been reminded that parliament grounds are closed, and that they are trespassing.”

Police reported that protesters had crafted makeshift weapons and been using a laser pointer to direct at the police helicopter overhead.

Livestream footage from the protest showed one protester aiming a fire extinguisher at the crowd of officers.

Over a loudspeaker, a repeated message claims that the streets around parliament are closed. One protester yelled back: “No they’re not, we’re not ready to go home yet.” In return, protesters have been speaking directly to officers with a megaphone, while music – including the national anthem, the Last Post and Amazing Grace – has been played. What sounded like the Glee version of Don’t Stop Believing also played.

Protesters have been pouring milk on their face after being pepper sprayed. One person also said they wished they had a face mask on them to stop the spray.

Large police operation under way in Wellington as officers surround protest

A large “pre-planned” police operation is under way in Wellington today, as hundreds of officers attempt to take back streets around parliament grounds.

Starting around 6am, officers in riot gear have swarmed the area. Commuters and workers have been told to stay clear.

“The purpose of this morning’s operation is to restore order and access to the area around parliament,” said a statement from police. “A police helicopter is in Wellington to assist.”

(Photo by Dave Lintott / AFP) (Photo by DAVE LINTOTT/AFP via Getty Images)

Police said protesters have been shining a laser pointer at the helicopter and have sighted occupiers with various weapons, including homemade plywood shields and pitchforks.

The operation involved a “significant” number of officers from around the country. “We are working with partner agencies to assist us with the safe movement of people,” added police.

Protesters claim to have been pepper sprayed, with one livestreamer on the grounds of parliament joking that today was a “bad day not to be wearing sunglasses”.

They added: “Protesters were turning parliament grounds into a warzone because Jacinda won’t come and talk.”

(Photo by DAVE LINTOTT/AFP via Getty Images)