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Protesters encamped at Wellington’s parliament grounds in February. (Photo: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty)
Protesters encamped at Wellington’s parliament grounds in February. (Photo: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty)

SocietyFebruary 15, 2022

Police urge against counter-protests as petition calls on parliament campers to quit

Protesters encamped at Wellington’s parliament grounds in February. (Photo: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty)
Protesters encamped at Wellington’s parliament grounds in February. (Photo: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty)

A petition pushing back against the anti-mandate protesters is gathering steam as police ‘strongly advise’ against letting frustration boil over into physical pushback.

“Tell the Wellington Protesters to Go Home – They are NOT the majority.” That’s the top line of an online petition that is rapidly gaining signatures. Launched last night, the text of the petition compares the occupation at parliament, which is now in its eighth day, to the attack on the US Capitol last year.

“We are witnessing a Jan 6 style attempted takeover of democracy in Wellington by a disparate group of conspiracy theorists, religious cult members, anti-vaxxers, anti-mandate believers and flat earthers,” it reads. 

“They decry the lack of freedom and believe the system is corrupt and that they have majority support. This petition’s aim is to generate as much support as possible to say a) go home; b) you do not have my support.”

By 1.30pm it had attracted more than 2,500 signatures. In the comments on the petition, common themes are concern for the welfare of children, disruption to Wellington streets, intimidation and harassment by protesters, and alarm at signs of more extremist elements within the group.

A petition in support of the protesters, launched five days ago, has so far gained more than 12,000 signatures.

Protesters last night declined the invitation from police to move their vehicles blocking streets around parliament to free parking set aside at Sky Stadium nearby. Efforts by some protesters to clear the bus depot, where participants have been sleeping, proved equally unfruitful.

Speaking to media yesterday, the Wellington district commander, Superintendent Corrie Parnell, said clearing roads was “a top priority” and consideration had been given to asking the army to remove the vehicles. “Wellingtonians have the right to move freely and safely around the city,” he said.

He said they were striving to “work collaboratively with key persons, and “productive talks” had been under way with “some protest groups”, while “attempts to connect with other factions are ongoing”. The occupation is thought to have a core of about 300 people, with numbers swelling to 3,000 in the middle of the day. He added: “You simply can’t arrest your way out of this situation.”

A group of counter-protesters in Ottawa (Photo: JamesRHutt/Twitter)

Asked about the possibility of counter-protests, as witnessed in Canada in recent days, Parnell said he was aware that some were considering mounting such actions, and though he understood the frustration among Wellington locals, police “strongly advised” against any such approach. 

In Ottawa, as the trucker convoy that inspired the New Zealand protest enters its third week, exasperated residents have launched counter-protests on the blockaded streets of the city. Thousands of participants over the weekend expressed anger at what they see as a lack of action by authorities to disperse the truckers, with police “all but invisible”

The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has just invoked powers under the Emergency Act to remove convoy protesters that have paralysed Ottawa streets and disrupted crossings on the southern border with the US. It is the first time the powers have been used against demonstrations. 

At parliament grounds in Wellington yesterday, a group of six of the factions taking part in the protest issued a letter demanding that “the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act and all the orders and mandates made under that legislation must be revoked immediately”.

Polling by Colmar Brunton for 1 News in November showed that three in four New Zealanders support the current vaccine mandates. Yesterday, 47,573 people received a booster dose.

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