WELLINGTON – One protester drove a car toward a New Zealand police line, narrowly avoiding officers, while other protesters sprayed officers with a stinging substance, police said Tuesday, as they tightened a cordon around a convoy that has been camped outside Parliament for two weeks.
The clashes in the capital of Wellington came a day after police reported that some of the protesters had thrown human feces at them.
Police Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers told reporters the actions of some of the protesters, who oppose coronavirus vaccine mandates, were unacceptable and would be dealt with assertively.
“Our focus remains on opening the roads up to Wellingtonians and doing our absolute best to restore peaceful protest,” Chambers said. “The behavior of a certain group within the protest community is absolutely disgraceful.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said protesters had taken things too far and needed to return home.
“What’s happening in Wellington is wrong," she said.
The latest clashes began after about 250 officers and staff arrived at dawn and used forklifts to move concrete barriers into a tighter cordon around the encampment, where hundreds of cars and trucks remain blocking city streets. Police have used the barriers this week to allow protest cars to leave but none to enter.
Video posted online shows a white car driving the wrong way down a one-way street toward a group of officers who quickly get out of the way while people shout. The vehicle comes to a stop at the police line and several officers climb inside and pull out the driver.
Police said the officers had been lucky to escape injury after the car stopped just short of colliding with them. They said they had arrested one person for driving in a dangerous manner and two others for obstructing police.
Chambers said the three officers who were sprayed with the unknown stinging substance had been treated at a hospital and were recovering well.
The protest, which began when a convoy of cars and trucks drove to Parliament, was inspired by similar protests in Canada. Protesters have been well organized, setting up tents on the lawns outside Parliament and trucking in portable toilets, crates of donated food, and bales of straw to lay down when the grass turned to mud after Parliament Speaker Trevor Mallard turned on the sprinklers and blasted Barry Manilow tunes in a failed effort to make them leave.
Protesters have even dug a vegetable garden, set up a daycare tent, and assembled makeshift showers as they signal their intent to stay for a long time.
New Zealand has mandated that certain workers get vaccinated against COVID-19, including teachers, doctors, nurses, police and military personnel. A vaccine pass is also required to enter most stores and restaurants.
The protests come as New Zealand experiences its first big COVID-19 outbreak, which has been fueled by the omicron variant. Daily case numbers jumped to a new high of more than 2,800 on Tuesday, although only a single patient was hospitalized in an intensive care unit. About 77% of the population is vaccinated.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, New Zealand has reported just 56 virus deaths among its population of 5 million, after it imposed strict border controls and lockdowns to eliminate earlier outbreaks.
Ardern said earlier this week she plans to begin easing virus mandates and restrictions once the peak of the current outbreak has passed.