Covid 19 Omicron convoy protest: Police claim progress at protest despite more cars arriving than leaving

Police claimed “progress” on Wednesday as 12 cars moved on from blocking streets around Parliament, while also conceding a larger number had in fact moved in to replace them.

Assistant Police Commissioner Richard Chambers, who is leading the operation regarding the anti-mandate protesters at Parliament, estimated there were now about 450 vehicles blocking surrounding streets and even occupying Victoria University’s Law School carpark.

On Tuesday, Police Commissioner Andy Coster said it was time for action to move the vehicles, parked illegally for over a week now, and he reiterated yesterday morning that towing would occur that day.

However, by the day’s end not a single car had been towed.

Chambers said police now had “towing capacity”, after finding mass resistance from towing companies to support the effort and no reply yet from the Defence Force about assistance, but had held off any action after engaging with protest leaders.

Four Defence Force vehicles had been seen arriving in Wellington, however, with a spokeswoman saying there were “being pre-positioned should they be required”.

Chambers said police needed to think about how best to manage the situation without it escalating, while dealing with the protest “influencers”.

“We are making small steps,” Chambers said.

“I can’t tell you this is going to be resolved tomorrow, but we are seeing encouraging signs from that fact a small number of vehicles have left and there were no major incidents.

“We are making confident, albeit small, steps forward.”

However, protesters the Herald spoke to shortly after said they had no intention of moving on, and comments on social media channels suggest the leaders spoken to may have limited influence among the wider protest group.

Asked why there were no attempts to remove the tents on day one, when there were only a handful and given it was also illegal at that point, Chambers said he could not confirm when a request had come from the Speaker of the House to remove them.

As the occupation enters day 10, reporters at the scene have noticed the presence of protesters steadily growing each day, with still hundreds of tents covering Parliament lawn and each and every blade of grass – and even gardens – nearby.

There is also an increasingly settled presence, with well-organised and stocked food services, medical tents and daycare, and even the odd homemade street sign.

The portaloos are cleaned and serviced regularly, and straw has been laid over the entire grounds to soak up any mud from the weekend’s deluge.

There are at least three musical stages, where different bands and DJs play throughout the day and into the early evening, giving an almost festival atmosphere, with even their own “security” working to maintain peace and discouraging any alcohol and drug use.

There has been minimal tension or violence on site since the mass arrests on Thursday, however there continue to be reports of some protesters abusing passers-by and even of those presenting a petition around Oranga Tamariki reforms.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson was present for the petition and said the vibe was “intimidatory”.

“It was also overriding a really important kaupapa about protecting our children as a nation. In all honesty, I was infuriated by the interaction.”

Davidson said she’d had to change her security plans due to the protesters.

Despite assurances from organisers the protest is peaceful and focused on removing vaccine mandates, at the site remain signs promoting violence against politicians and journalists.

These are widespread online in social media channels, with even talk of violent, military-style takeovers.

Asked about these threats and the risk profile Chambers said he wouldn’t comment on anything specific but the safety of “everybody” remained their focus.

Protest leaders have called for politicians to engage with them, and with that sense of calm Act Party leader David Seymour said the time was ripe for a “mature conversation” about de-escalation. He met with some of the leaders on Wednesday.

“A large part of their concern is they feel no one’s listening to them,” he said.

Seymour said political leaders would not meet with protest leaders as long as abusive and threatening behaviour continued.

He said on the other hand, dehumanising protesters or calling them “feral” was highly unhelpful.

“One of the things that’s clear is it’s becoming increasingly organised.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admonished Seymour, saying she did not think it was a “responsible thing to do for a party that champions law and order”.

“Every party should be focused on two things, making sure we’re working hard to protect New Zealanders during this pandemic and second thing is that there is activity outside that has tipped into illegal activity.

“The focus needs to be removing the illegal activity blocking Wellingtonians lives.”

Speaking to reporters Ardern also said she was concerned foreign money could be funding the protest.

“I certainly couldn’t rule out a connection with groups offshore,” she said.

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