The capital braces for another protest, with rogue MP Gaurav Sharma facing trial and more funding for flood-torn parts of the country, in the latest headline in the New Zealand Herald.Video/New Zealand Herald
Anti-government protesters gathered at Civic Square in Wellington this morning as they prepared to march towards Parliament.
The 23-day illegal parliamentary occupation ended the pain in the capital nearly six months ago when riot police clashed with crowds.
Today’s protests are led by FDR founder Brian Tamaki, who insists his group has no intention of becoming violent or occupying parliamentary constituencies.
With memories of the last protest ending in violence fresh, more police have been called in from outside Wellington ahead of today’s march, with roads blocked, concrete bollards placed and makeshift fences erected around beehives.
A “large” police presence is expected.
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Around 7pm yesterday, a group of anti-government protesters crossed the North Island to the capital, arriving in Sanson.
Inside the Capitol, large black curtains on the ground floor blocked the windows of the bridge between the Capitol and the Beehive, preventing people from entering and leaving.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had no plans to engage with the protesters and urged them to remain “peaceful and lawful”.
While security measures have been put in place, the council grounds will remain open.
Ardern said the safety measures were a balance between the right to protest and preventing a similar situation in February and March.
“We do have recent experiences that have taken a huge toll on the council and its grounds, so it’s only natural to see these additional assurances in place to ensure the protests take place in a way that doesn’t cause significant damage after the fact,” A Dern said.
Tamaki told the Herald yesterday afternoon he did not want any violence at the demonstration and would have men as security guards.
“I have good people who do a good job of security … we don’t want any violence,” he said.
Tamaki, who said he was not involved in the last protest, said he was involved in 150 other protests, “none of which were violent.”
Asked if he wanted to “occupy” parliamentary space today, Tamaki said “no way”.
“We were there for a day. The police knew that. No occupation. Any tents that came out…even my guys would tell them [to] put them away. “
Tamaki said he thought the protests would end around 2 p.m., but said it was not our responsibility if others “suddenly show up and walk away from behind.”
Many office workers and students in Wellington have opted to work from home to avoid the march.
Protests in February temporarily closed the Pipitea campus of Victoria University of Wellington near The Hive, while its bookstore, Vic Books, also closed its stores permanently.
A university spokesman said the campus would remain open today, but the vehicle entrance gate to the old government building had been closed.
“Staff and students have been informed of the planned protests and have the option to work or study remotely if they wish.”
Wellington Mayor Andy Foster said his message to those involved was to “follow the rules”. He said earlier this week that about 1,000 people were expected to give or take.
He expects protesters to march from Civic Square to Parliament, where they will speak their minds, and then leave again.
“People should remain calm about what might happen and rest assured that if anything happens that we didn’t expect, there are resources and plans to deal with it immediately,” Foster said.
He added that the city council has reached out to police and will provide protesters with “overflow parking” if necessary. Road closures include the end of Parliament at Lambton Quay, lower Molesworth St and Kate Sheppard Place.
During protests in February, some protesters’ vehicles blocked streets and parking guards issued hundreds of tickets.
From 10am, protesters are expected to march from Civic Square to Parliament, before the “People’s Court” meets at 11am.
The verdict – as it is called online – will be delivered at 1.30pm.
Yesterday, the Interislander sailing on the Aratere ferry was cancelled due to emergency repairs, meaning no passengers sailed for the rest of the day, which could affect any protesters travelling from the South Island to the capital.
The protest motorcade left Auckland yesterday morning and was escorted by police across the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Up to 100 convoy vehicles can be seen travelling together on three lanes of the Auckland South Freeway.
Team members held the New Zealand flag out of the window and waved to each other.
Wellington Regional Commander Superintendent Corrie Parnell said police respected the right to protest lawfully, but anything deemed illegal or disrupting people’s legitimate business would not be tolerated.
“There will be a large police presence around the city of Wellington ahead of the planned protests.
“Additional officers have been called from outside the Wellington Police District and are planning to respond if necessary.”
Parnell urged commuters and those working or moving in the area to plan ahead.
“While we expect traffic disruptions to be minimal, there will be more people in the area which may cause some delays,” he said.
Wellington Chamber of Commerce chief executive Simon Arcus said some businesses were uneasy ahead of today.
At least 50 Wellington businesses received relief payments after protests broke off in February, forcing some to close entirely.
“A little bit of muscle memory from the last protest made people anxious,” Akus told the Herald.