New Zealand Covid protest convoy jams streets near parliament
A convoy of trucks and campervans blocked streets near New Zealand's parliament in Wellington Tuesday to protest against Covid restrictions and vaccinations, inspired by a similar demonstration in Canada.
Plastered with messages such as "give us back our freedom" and "coercion is not consent", hundreds of vehicles parked in streets surrounding the parliament building known as The Beehive.
Hundreds more drove around the city centre with their horns blaring as more than 1,000 protesters on foot listened to speeches.
Wellington man Stu Main said the protesters felt their concerns about rights being eroded were not being heard by the government.
"I'm actually vaccinated but I'm against mandating people to be vaccinated," he told AFP.
"I think it's disgraceful, forcing vaccination on people who don't want it."
The demonstration remained peaceful, with police reporting no arrests or major incidents.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had no intention of entering discussions with convoy participants, arguing that the majority of New Zealanders had shown their support for the government's vaccination programme.
"Ninety-six percent of New Zealanders have gone out and got a vaccination, which has enabled us to live now with fewer restrictions because of the extra protection that has provided," she told Radio New Zealand.
Covid vaccinations are mandatory for people working in certain sectors in New Zealand, such as health, law enforcement, education and defence.
A pass system is also in force, with people required to show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, sports events and religious services.
It is not required for public transport, supermarkets, schools and accessing health services.
Several of the Wellington protesters carried Canadian flags, including an expatriate named Billy, who declined to give his surname.
"I'm just supporting the brothers in Canada, fighting for freedom over there," he said.
A "Freedom Convoy" of truckers has gridlocked the Canadian capital Ottawa for more than a week, prompting city authorities to declare a state of emergency.
Organisers of the Wellington convoy have not said how long they intend to remain parked in the city.