The police retreat while towing vehicles belonging to the parliamentary demonstrators
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said threats to tow the vehicles of anti-Mandate protesters in Wellington had escalated tensions in an unsafe way.
Speaking to the media on Friday, he said de-escalation was now the only sure way to resolve the ongoing occupation for reasons of parliament.
“After our announcement of the towing on Wednesday, it was clear that the number of people on and around the site had increased,” Coster said when asked by a reporter.
But he said towing of protesters’ vehicles is still in the “toolkit of options”.
“Police’s current assessment of the situation is that any enforcement action carries a serious risk of much greater damage than the protest is currently causing,” Coster said.
“Enforcement actions taken carry real risks of public injury, escalation in the numbers of people and a transition from a largely peaceful protest to violence.”
The police commissioner said officers had “constructive engagement” with “some key protest leaders”.
“We continue to carefully evaluate our options for reopening the roads, but the most desirable way to bring this to an end safely is to encourage open channels of communication,” he said.
“We are confident there is still a positive group of leaders to work with. They are constructive. There is management within the group of people’s behavior that we believe keeps people safe.”
Coster said police also expect a “significant number” of new protesters to join the occupation of Parliament over the weekend.
He estimated there are currently around 800 anti-Mandate protesters in Wellington.
“The number of people, structures and vehicles has continued to grow over the past 24 hours,” the police commissioner said.
“Today we will put in place a traffic management plan to check vehicle numbers and ensure fire and ambulance vehicles can reach the protest site.”
In response to allegations that the police had failed Wellingtoners, the police commissioner said they had to “manage” the situation.
“I understand that perspective. This issue has mobilized many people and the police must manage this in a way that does not add to an already tense situation.”