Building on the success of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ in Canada, New Zealand is seeing a rise in opposition to Covid restrictions which have shut the country down for almost two years, and to vaccine mandates seen as interfering with personal autonomy.
Thousands of protesters accompanied a convoy of trucks and cars drove to the parliament in Wellington from around the nation more than a week ago. Numbers dwindled during the week but grew again last weekend, local media said.
Tactics used by the authorities to disperse the crowds included blasting Barry Manilow music and turning on water sprinklers – but protesters brought in bales of straw to spread on the sodden grounds outside parliament.
Amongst those demonstrating were a group of Maori people who performed the world famous Haka. A video of their performance has gone viral attracting more than 1.1 million views on Twitter alone.
New Zealand, natives Maori perform the sacred Haka dance to Parliament House in Wellington to end vaccine mandates. pic.twitter.com/QWIAJq7J5s
— RadioGenova (@RadioGenova) February 13, 2022
The authorities and police have been accused of heavy handedness, in particular, as many children and families seem to be attending the protest.
Trevor Mallard, the parliament speaker, was criticised for ordering staff to turn on the sprinklers. ‘I ordered them on,’ he confirmed to Associated Press. ‘No-one who is here is here legally, and if they’re getting wet from below as well as above, they’re likely to be a little bit less comfortable and more likely to go home,’ he also told news organisation Stuff.
Some police interaction with protesters was also criticised, in particular after one photo of a policeman appearing to lean on a young person’s head attracted huge attention online.
However, police said they had “been exercising their powers fairly and professionally, and have used force proportionate and relevant to the circumstances.”
Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has seen popularity ratings plummet as the country is seeing record levels of infection with the more transmissible Omicron Covid variant despite restrictions – with rising inflation woes adding to voters’ concerns.