14 Feb 2022

Police appeal to protesters at Parliament to clear the streets

7:57 am on 14 February 2022

Police are appealing to protesters encamped at Parliament to work with them to try and clear the streets of Wellington.

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Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Despite being trespassed from the grounds some days ago, protesters remain on the lawn and show no sign of leaving.

Wellington district commander Superintendent Corrie Parnell says there were about 3000 protesters present over the weekend.

There has been a constant presence of 400 to 500 protesters in tents on the grounds and in the surrounding streets.

The police don't plan to wait the protesters out, Parnell said.

"The primary focus now is to appeal to those key organisers, leaders of the various factions there to engage with us. We are now moving to suggesting to them that we create that freedom of movement for Wellingtonians and businesses by getting you to move your vehicles to a staged area police we will facilitate for you."

It is not clear where exactly the police want protesters to move their vehicles to.

Police have tried to engage with organisers, he said.

"We've never sat on our laurels and been waiting here. You know, we've been working 24/7 around the clock in terms of looking to engage."

Covid-19 spreading through the crowd is a major concern for the police, Parnell said.

"Common logic would tell you in the presence of the audience we've got there, primarily no masks, a lot of non vaccination mandate. That that is a very real risk, not only to the occupiers but indeed to my staff."

Sanitation issues at the site are also a concern for police, Parnell said.

"Sanitisation has been in the form of portaloos down there ... some of the filming has being quite graphic, particularly around children, and on the grounds the squalor of the water, defecation and surrounding environments."

When asked if officials were too slow in responding to the convoy and allowing the protesters to erect tents at the site, Parnell said "hindsight is a wonderful thing."

"We were fully aware of a convoy. I don't think we've ever predicted the scalability and actually what's played out here."

The police were not involved in the decision to turn Parliament's sprinklers on and to use loud music to try and get rid of protesters, Parnell said.

"It's not a tactic we would encourage. It is what it is, it happened."

In a statement, Parnell said police will have a highly visible presence in and around the Parliament grounds tomorrow to provide reassurance for people going about everyday life in the city.

"We will have foot patrols in around the area of the railway station, up Molesworth Street, and streets adjoining the protest activity," he said.

He encouraged commuters to plan for continued traffic disruption, however, he said Police wanted everyone coming into the city to feel safe.

* Photo essay: Parliament grounds occupation - day six

Plastic mats used to cover the mud were picked up by the wind and thrown across the precinct this afternoon.

A man began speaking through a megaphone at lunchtime, but demonstrators did not have the full sound system set-up of previous days.

Some were calling out to Parliament and asking where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was. Parliament's buildings are largely empty with politicians not returning to the Capital until Tuesday.

Parliamentary Service chief executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero and Speaker Trevor Mallard are recommending only staff who need to come to Parliament buildings for exceptional circumstances do so tomorrow.

The playlist booming through Parliament's loudspeakers changed about 11am, and now includes an out of tune recorder rendition of 'My Heart Will Go On', the Titanic theme song by Celine Dion.

UK musician James Blunt earlier posted on Twitter telling New Zealand police to contact him if the Barry Manilow music, which was playing, did not deter protesters.

His suggestion has been enacted, with his song 'You're Beautiful' now on rotation. It has played so many times protesters now know most of the words and are singing along.

Both songs and the government's spoken message advising the crowd to leave the grounds are being met with loud booing and chants of 'Freedom'.

In its regular statement today, where the Ministry of Health revealed there were more than 800 new community cases, the ministry also noted there have been a number of rumours circulating about possible cases of Covid-19 linked to the protest, but the Regional Public Health Unit had confirmed that there were currently no notified positive cases linked to it.

Molesworth Street remains blocked by cars, campervans and trucks and Metlink has stopped all buses using its Lambton Interchange until further notice because of the protest.

Retailers say disruption to surrounding streets has also affected their trade.

Superintendent Scott Fraser said police would continue to have a significant presence at Parliament grounds and are exploring options to resolve the disruption.

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