New Zealand protest ends, investigation and cleanup begin

Mar 2, 2022, 10:28 PM | Updated: 10:45 pm

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand police said Thursday they will review hours of cellphone footage taken by themselves, the media and the public to identify lawbreakers, while crews begin the cleanup of Parliament’s grounds after a protest there against coronavirus vaccine mandates ended in violence.

A day earlier, police moved in on several hundred protesters who had been camped out on the grounds and surrounding streets for more than three weeks. As protesters retreated, they set fire to tents, mattresses and chairs, and hurled stones and wood at officers.

The protest is also prompting a rethink of security at the grounds, which have been the site of many peaceful protests in the past, as well as a favored spot for workers and families to walk through or eat lunch.

House Speaker Trevor Mallard said on Twitter he thought a wall was needed, with gates that could be closed when they were confronted by groups like the unruly protesters.

“I love the openness and accessibility of our House and grounds,” he said. “I want to retain that but have a way of keeping people safe.”

Hundreds of officers were involved in the operation to break up the camp. They wore riot gear and used pepper spray and water hoses after protesters sprayed fire extinguishers and threw objects at them.

Protesters had blocked the streets around Parliament with hundreds of cars and trucks after being inspired by the convoy protests in Canada.

Police Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers told reporters eight officers were admitted to a local hospital after the confrontation, suffering injuries like broken bones and lacerations. All had since been released.

Chambers said about 100 protesters had been arrested since Wednesday — suspected of crimes like trespassing, causing damage and theft — and a significant investigation would follow.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took a tour of the damage, saying the grounds looked and smelled like a dump.

“But I have every confidence it will be restored, and quickly,” she told reporters.

Ardern said she’d been quite upset about the damage to a children’s slide and play area after a fire had been set there, but said after viewing it that it would be okay, despite some fire damage.

New Zealand is experiencing its biggest outbreak since the pandemic began as the omicron variant spreads. On Thursday, health authorities reported a record 23,000 new daily cases.

Ardern has said she plans to begin easing virus mandates and restrictions after the peak of the omicron outbreak has passed.

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New Zealand protest ends, investigation and cleanup begin