Covid-19 Wellington protest: ‘Tensions high’ as protesters attempt to occupy marae, community responds

Tensions are running high in Lower Hutt as a group of protesters from the Parliament standoff are reportedly attempting to occupy the Wainuiōmata Marae.

According to unconfirmed reports, police helicopters are circling the area while residents have gathered to defend the marae and block protesters.

Police earlier told the Herald they were “aware of other [protest] activity around the country”.

In a tweet, Speaker Trevor Mallard said he had spent some time at the marae this evening.

“My community is doing a better job of stopping the feral campers than I did,” he wrote.

Residents have reported shop windows being damaged and campsites set up near the marae.

Wainuiōmata Marae was Wellington’s first marae-based vaccination clinic.

Earlier, Assistant Police Commissioner Richard Chambers said a total of 100 people have been arrested in relation to the Parliament protest’s violent end yesterday, with charges including arson, rioting and inciting violence.

An extra 11 people had been arrested today, with a total of nine people charged with inciting violence and 78 with trespass or obstruction.

A significant investigation was under way into tracking down those who committed unlawful acts, with police viewing hours and hours of footage.

“The hard work continues. The investigation phase will last for as long as it needs to hold people accountable,” Chambers said.

Police said they had established a crime scene around Parliament grounds and the surrounding area. Forensic investigations are also under way to determine those responsible for the alleged arson.

Police added they would also check for hazards before the area can reopen to the public.
Protest spokesman Leighton Baker was pepper-sprayed and arrested yesterday during the standoff with police. He was charged with obstruction and spent last night in custody.

The protesters were “mainly peaceful” and he said police were not justified in using pepper spray and, he claimed, batons.

“I got smacked in the side of the head with something,” Baker told Newstalk ZB’s Andrew Dickens.

“I just didn’t think that would happen in New Zealand.”

Asked if police had used excessive force, Chambers said the force used was necessary and proportionate to the actions they were facing. He confirmed that sponge bullets were fired at protesters yesterday.

The eight injured police officers admitted to hospital yesterday had all been discharged. Their injuries ranged from bumps and bruises to bone fractures and head injuries.

Chambers thanked Wellington Free Ambulance for their support during yesterday’s violent clashes.

Story continues after live blog below

Earlier, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday’s violence on Parliament grounds was a sight she never expected to see and the area today was something akin to a “rubbish dump”.

The grounds would be restored as quickly as possible and being able to return and enjoy the area would be quite symbolic for the public, she said.

In total, 600 police staff were involved and 50 firefighters. However, 40 police officers were injured, including the eight were admitted to hospital.

Ardern thanked police, fire and security staff, many of whom were abused.

“To each of you, we say thank you. You were there throughout these events at great risk to yourselves. Many of you were abused, some were injured. But you put your personal safety aside, in order to look after others. And for that we are very grateful.”

Earlier today, police said they are continuing to maintain a high-visibility foot presence around the Parliamentary grounds and neighbouring streets today.

They said seven staff were in hospital overnight with non-life-threatening injuries.

Two disorder-related arrests were made overnight, taking the total number to 89.

Aitken St, Molesworth St and Kate Sheppard Place remain blocked by concrete barriers but these are expected to be removed tomorrow.

“The area was generally quiet with a small number of protesters located near the site, and Parliament grounds remain closed,” a police spokesperson said.

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