Police spoke with the Defense Force to help move protesters’ vehicles blocking roads in central Wellington. Video / George Heard
Anti-warrant protesters in Parliament ignored a free parking offer from police tonight and instead turned nearby streets into a rave party, with their vehicles continuing to block roads in central Wellington.
On Monday afternoon, Supt Corrie Parnell, the Wellington District Commander, urged people parked illegally around Wellington’s central business district to move their vehicles, saying they could instead park for free in a secure area of the Sky Stadium from 6:30 p.m.
However, a witness told the Herald just before 9.30pm that protesters were singing and dancing, with cars and motorhomes still illegally blocking nearby roads.
“Looks like these guys aren’t going anywhere,” the man said.
The Herald asked police how many vehicle owners had taken up the police offer tonight and moved to Sky Stadium.
A police spokesman said tonight they could not confirm any progress on protesters’ vehicles this evening.
Earlier today, Parnell told media that vehicles were free to come and go from the stadium and that vehicle owners had been “very receptive” to the idea.
The police hoped to clear the blocked roads this evening. Although forced removal of vehicles was an option, it was not his preference.
“We had some really positive lines today with key influences. We’re looking to clear the pavement.
“Wellingtonians have the right to move freely and safely within the city, so keeping all roads clear is a top priority,” he said.
Protesters had been given information on how and when their vehicles might be moved, Parnell said.
The police had spoken with the defense forces to help move the vehicles if necessary.
The witness told the Herald he had seen a motorhome moving earlier that night, but no car had been towed.
However, protesters were dancing to loud music on the grounds of Parliament, with the party spilling out into the jammed street.
As police work to end the occupation and restore order in the city center, additional officers have arrived from across the country. However, police said they were unable to provide figures for operational reasons. The number of demonstrators has varied between 300 and 3,000 over the past seven days.
“Police continue to have a significant presence in Parliament and have had productive talks with some protest groups,” Parnell said. “Attempts to connect with other factions are ongoing.”
He said there was a strong likelihood that the protest would last for days or even weeks.
“The best outcome here is to work collaboratively with those key people there in terms of success,” Parnell said.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, like I said before, you just can’t stop to get out of this situation.”
He said there were ‘no incidents of note’ at today’s protest, but said he was concerned about the number of children present.
Parnell said he was aware of people considering “counter-protests” and he strongly advised against it.
Earlier, police criticized protesters’ actions in the city center, saying they were creating “real stress and concern” for residents and nearby schools and businesses.
Parnell said police would be providing vehicle owners with information throughout the day on how to move their cars and trucks to the Sky Stadium car park – which should be ready by 6.30pm.
He says the protest is causing distress to nearby residents.
“The disruption to residents, schools and workplaces is creating real stress and real concern, and people are not feeling safe.”
In a post on Twitter, Lower Hutt Mayor Campbell Barry revealed that a friend who works as a civil servant was spat at by protesters on their way to work.
“Spit on it for wearing a mask,” he wrote. “You can’t make this up.”
The Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association has spoken out against the protests, saying that while it supports the right to peaceful protest, the occupation has overstepped that.
“There is no place for bullying and harassment that endangers the safety and well-being of the public, students and staff. Our university community has the right to access the campus – our place work and study – safely,” a spokesperson said.
They went on to say the situation should have been handled better by Victoria University, Wellington City Council and the police.
“As a safety and precautionary measure, students and staff are now being asked to stay home. This should not have reached the point where the protest spilled over from Parliament to directly impact campus premises, and the safety and well-being of our community has been placed at risk.
“VUWSA calls on the university, Wellington City Council and law enforcement to take action against the dangerous and unwelcome campus street traffic jam and occupation of university premises.”
The occupation of Parliament has entered its seventh day, and Parnell says there is now real concern for the health of protesters and the police who are monitoring the situation.
Weather conditions were cold and wet overnight, and Parnell says protesters must leave – and take their children with them.
“We are now concerned about the health risks posed and the sanitation issues.”