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New Zealand: Riots break out as police clamps down on demonstrators protesting against Covid restrictions

On Wednesday, the Jacinda Ardern government in New Zealand decided to quell the protests by ordering riot police to evict the protesters who have been staging demonstrations against anti-vaccine mandates and coronavirus strictures on major thoroughfares of capital Wellington.

Chaos and violence swept Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, after police clashed with anti-vaccine mandate protesters outside the country’s parliament on Wednesday, using pepper spray and making several arrests as they moved to end the long-running protests against the coronavirus-induced restrictions.

Drawing inspiration from farmers’ protests in India, a large number of anti-restrictions protesters in New Zealand had camped outside the parliament building in Wellington, in opposition to what they called crippling coronavirus curbs enforced by the NZ government. However, unlike the Indian government that humoured the demands of the farmers and rescinded the three farm laws, the New Zealand government reportedly did not engage in discussions with the protesters and ordered police action against them, much in line with what the Trudeau government did against Truckers’ protests in Toronto, where emergency powers have been invoked to subdue demonstrations against compulsory vaccine mandates.

The New Zealand police on March 2 launched their biggest ever effort to drive out protesters, who have been camping close to the country’s parliament against the crippling coronavirus restrictions and anti-vaccine mandates imposed by the Jacinda Ardern government. The police, equipped with riot gear, moved in to flush out the protesters that have been peacefully protesting for over three weeks outside the New Zealand parliament, in a bid to convey their concerns to the legislators.

However, on Wednesday, the Jacinda Ardern government decided to quell the protests through heavy-handed means, ordering riot police to evict the protesters who have been staging demonstrations on the major thoroughfares of capital Wellington against what they argued as infringement of their individual rights. As police proceeded to clear the protest sites, clashes erupted between the demonstrators and the law enforcement officials.

The videos and images of the violent clashes between police and anti-vaccine mandate protesters soon made their way on social media websites as locals captured the brutality meted out on demonstrators by the riot police. Several tents erected just metres away from the parliament building, caught fire in the melee sending up smoke plumes before being doused by the police.

According to a report published by Reuters, over 60 people were arrested by the police in their initial efforts to end the protests. While many protesters packed up their tents and left after the New Zealand government deployed riot police to tackle them, there were many who refused to budge, resisting the police force for the protests they had participated in against stifling restrictions imposed by the government.

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern defends heavy-handed measures adopted by police to evict protesters

Even as clashes erupted between demonstrators and New Zealand police, many social media users lambasted PM Jacinda Ardern for employing tyrannical measures against peaceful protesters. They alleged that Ardern did not care to talk to the protesters even once and went in with brute force to stamp out the demonstrations, which were also attended by women and children.

However, Ardern defended her government’s actions, deligitimising the protests by calling it an attack on the values cherished by the country. “It was an attack on our frontline police, it was an attack on our parliament, it was an attack on our values, and it was wrong,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference while adding that protesters were given ample opportunity to leave.

The protest had reportedly started as a stand against COVID-19 vaccine mandates but soon many groups joined in calling for an end to all pandemic restrictions. New Zealand, which was prematurely hailed by many as a model country to fight COVID-19 outbreak, recently found itself overwhelmed with soaring coronavirus cases, powered by the new highly infectious Omicron variant. As a consequence, the country imposed stringent anti-virus curbs, engendering resentment among a large section of the population, who took to streets to protest against them.

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Jinit Jain
Jinit Jain
Writer. Learner. Cricket Enthusiast.

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