NZ police arrest, remove COVID-19 demonstrators

NZ police arrest, remove COVID-19 demonstrators

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NZ police arrest, remove COVID-19 demonstrators

Vehicles block the streets around the parliament building, or The Beehive, (center behind) in Wellington, New Zealand on February 9, 2022, on the second day of the demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions, inspired by a similar one in Canada.

New Zealand police on Thursday arrested more than 50 people and began forcefully removing hundreds of protesters camped outside its parliament building for the last three days to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and tough coronavirus restrictions.

Inspired by truckers’ demonstrations in Canada, into a 13th day with protesters blocking two border crossings with the US, several thousand protesters this week blocked streets near the parliament in capital Wellington with trucks, cars and motorcycles.

A country of 5 million people, New Zealand has reported just over 18,000 confirmed cases and 53 deaths since the pandemic began. About 94 percent of eligible people are vaccinated, with shots mandatory for some staff in frontline jobs.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday told the protesters to “move on,” saying the protests are not a reflection of what the majority in the country feels. As of 14:45 local time(0145 GMT), about 1,000 protesters remained at the site, defying warnings and efforts by the police to clear them.

“All of us want to actually move on. We are working very hard to put ourselves in the best possible position to do that,” Ardern told reporters.

Ardern acknowledged every New Zealander had the right to protest, but said that should not disrupt others’ lives. 

Despite garnering plaudits for keeping the country virtually virus-free over the last two years, the strict restrictions now in place have become unpopular, with Ardern’s approval ratings taking a hit in recent opinion polls.