By Praveen Menon
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday she believed protests against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate now entering their second week were an “imported” phenomenon, and nothing like she had seen before in the country.
Hundreds of protesters continue to occupy the lawns outside the distinctive ‘Beehive’ parliament for a seventh day, ignoring repeated calls from the police to leave and relentlessly through the weekend’s driving rain.
Inspired by trucker protests against Canada’s anti-vaccine mandate, protesters also blocked several streets around Parliament with their trucks, vans and motorcycles.
“It feels like an imported protest to me,” Ardern told state broadcaster TVNZ in an interview.
“I saw Trump flags in the forecourt, I saw Canadian flags in the forecourt,” she said, referring to images of former US President Donald Trump carried by some protesters as well. than the situation in Canada.
Ardern said it appeared the protesters weren’t interested in a dialogue.
“When you see signs calling for the execution of politicians, that’s not really a group that wants to engage in political dialogue,” Ardern said.
The protests began as a stand against vaccination mandates, but have now been joined by groups calling for an end to COVID-19 restrictions, rejecting vaccinations and drawing attention to other social issues such as censorship and the rights of the Maori ethnic community. At the height of the protests, thousands of protesters were reportedly involved.
Many brought children to the protests, which Ardern said was concerning.
Police said officers will continue to be highly visible in and around the Parliament grounds to reassure everyone.
A country of five million people, New Zealand has one of the lowest COVID-19 numbers in the world, largely due to tough coronavirus border restrictions and social restrictions.
However, daily cases of Omicron variants rose to nearly 1,000 on Monday as some nationwide restrictions were eased this month.
The country’s borders are however still closed with tens of thousands of expatriate New Zealanders cut off from their families.
The High Court on Monday began hearing a case against the government brought by a group representing expatriate New Zealanders who accused the state of unlawfully denying citizens the right to enter the country.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)