More people arrived outside New Zealand’s parliament on Friday, as protesters calling for an end to a vaccine mandate and tough COVID-19 restrictions refused to end their demonstrations despite arrests by the police.
It’s been four days since several thousand protesters, inspired by truckers’ demonstrations in Canada, occupied the parliament lawns in the capital Wellington, and blocked surrounding streets with their trucks, cars, camper vans and motorcycles.
On Thursday, the police arrested 120 people as they attempted to forcefully remove the protesters, but were seen falling back later in the day as the campers refused to move.
The police said in a statement on Friday that there were no incidents of note overnight at the parliament grounds, although 2 more people were arrested for “alcohol-related behaviour”.
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“Police continue to take a measured approach to the protesters, who are trespassing on the grounds of Parliament and have been repeatedly asked to leave,” Superintendent Corrie Parnell said in the statement.
There are a range of different causes and motivations among the protesters, making it difficult to open clear and meaningful lines of communication, the police said, adding that misinformation, particularly on social media, has been identified as an issue.
More tents and even a gazebo went up on the lawn as more protesters arrived from across the country on Friday. But the crowd was peaceful, singing and dancing, unlike the angry demonstrations seen on Thursday.
“At the moment it looks more like a festival here,” one of the organisers said on the microphone.
“Does anybody see a mob here?”
A small number of protesters were also reported to have gathered in other cities like Nelson and Christchurch in solidarity.
The protesters ignored calls from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to “move on”. The continuing stand off is mounting political pressure on Ardern, whose approval ratings taking a hit in recent opinion polls.
Despite garnering plaudits for keeping the country virtually virus-free over the last two years, the strict restrictions that are still in place have become unpopular.