WELLINGTON: Efforts to clear New Zealand anti-vaccine protesters by blasting Barry Manilow songs on a loop have drawn criticism from police officers caught in the crossfire.
Hundreds of demonstrators – inspired by the “Freedom Convoy” of truckers in Canada – have been camped on the lawns of parliament for a week, ignoring appeals from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday (Feb 14) to “go home, and take your children”.
Attempts to move the protesters over the weekend included dousing them with sprinklers and pummelling them with sickly sweet pop tracks such as Baby Shark, Macarena and Manilow’s Mandy.
Wellington police chief Superintendent Corrie Parnell was unamused at the tongue-in-cheek tactics deployed by parliament officials, which appear to have steeled demonstrators’ determination not to move.
“It certainly wouldn’t be tactics or methodologies that we would endorse, and it’s something we would have preferred did not occur,” Parnell told Radio New Zealand.
“But it did occur, so we have to deal with what we’ve got in front of us.”
Parnell urged protesters who arrived as part of a convoy last week to move vehicles that were still blocking streets.
He also defended the hands-off approach adopted by police since Thursday, when officers tried to forcibly clear the lawns, resulting in violent clashes and more than 120 arrests.
“This is not a matter of … arresting your way out of it,” he said, calling on protest organisers to negotiate in good faith.
While the original convoy was promoted as a demonstration against vaccine mandates, Ardern said it was clearly now being dominated by anti-vaccination activists.
“What we’ve seen out there seems to be much more anti-vaccination than anything else,” she told TV3.
“It’s included yelling abuse at people who are walking around with masks on … there are signs calling for the execution of politicians … we’ve seen some horrific behaviour down there.”
Ardern declined to comment on the musical anti-protest stunt, but opposition figures criticised parliamentary speaker Trevor Mallard for approving the action.
“Mallard’s actions are unedifying, embarrassing and ineffective,” National party lawmaker Chris Bishop tweeted.
Opposition ACT Party leader David Seymour accused Mallard of “acting like a kid” and fuelling a siege mentality among the protesters.
“Not only are Mallard’s antics immature, not only are they ineffective, they have made a serious situation much worse,” he said.
“His petty behaviour has only encouraged the protesters further.”