By NICK PERRY, Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Police on Thursday began arresting dozens of protesters camping on the grounds of New Zealand’s parliament on the third day of a convoy protesting coronavirus mandates.

The arrests came after Speaker of Parliament Trevor Mallard made the rare decision to close the ground.

Police called more than 100 additional officers from other parts of the country. Still, the police seemed ready to wait for officers to form a line and order people to leave but were only advancing very slowly towards them.

By noon, police had arrested more than 50 people and charged many with trespassing or obstruction. Police wore protective vests but did not don riot gear or carry firearms.

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Police said they warned everyone on the grounds that they were offending.

“Police repeatedly called on protesters to leave the area and began to evict people from the compound,” said Wellington District Commander Superintendent Corrie Parnell. “While the police recognize people’s right to protest, it must be conducted in a way that does not unfairly impact the general public.”

The protest began on Tuesday after more than 1,000 people driving cars and trucks converged on Parliament in a convoy inspired by protests in Canada and elsewhere.

The number of protesters had fallen to a few hundred by Thursday. Some of the protesters’ vehicles remained parked in the middle of the streets around Parliament, forcing some streets to close. The National Library and many cafes and bars in the area closed during the protest.

The grounds of Parliament are often the scene of peaceful protests, although mass encampments are unusual.

Typically, at least some politicians will come out to listen to protesters’ concerns, but politicians gathering in Parliament after a summer break appeared to be in rare unison in not acknowledging the protesters, who Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said were not representative of New Zealanders. .

Among the protesters’ grievances is the requirement in New Zealand that certain workers be vaccinated against COVID-19, including teachers, doctors, nurses, police and military personnel. Many protesters also oppose mask mandates – such as those in stores and among children around the age of 8 in classrooms – and champion the ideal of more “freedom”.

New Zealand was spared the worst of the pandemic after closing its borders and implementing strict containment measures, limiting the spread of the virus. The country has reported just 53 virus deaths among its population of 5 million.

But some have grown tired of the restrictions. Ardern said last week that the country would end its quarantine requirements for incoming travelers in stages as its borders reopen. With around 77% of New Zealanders vaccinated, Ardern also promised that she would no longer impose lockdowns.

Health officials have reported about 200 new cases of the virus every day as an outbreak of the omicron variant grows. Sixteen people are currently hospitalized due to the virus.

Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said he had not issued tickets for vehicles parked illegally near Parliament Buildings due to concerns about the safety of staff, but was considering his options for reopening the roads in what remained an unstable situation. He said the council advised people to avoid the area.

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