Arrests as Occupy Auckland camps shut down
Three Occupy protesters were arrested in Aotea Square this morning as Auckland Council shut down camps across the city.
Police, security guards and council staff forcibly removed tents and equipment, and protesters retaliated by occupying the security guards' vans.
Police arrested two protesters in Aotea Square, a man and a woman, and charged them with breaching the peace.
The pair were being held in a police van, which was being guarded by 15 officers. They could be heard loudly banging the inside of the van.
A third protester has also been arrested and charged with breaching the peace, but it is unclear where the arrest took place.
There were nasty scenes as security guards attempted to use knives to cut down one of the Occupy structures.
Protesters rushed the guards, who retreated and regrouped with police.
One protester handcuffed himself to the structure, a pergola covered in tarpaulins.
Police say they found methamphetamine and a pipe in one of the tents.
More than 30 police officers were on the scene.
Flustered protester Merlin Blackmore said the situation developed "rapidly" at Aotea Square.
"Police are physically removing a protester from a van who is protecting his gear... they are physically grabbing him right now, they are being quite vigorous."
He then shouted at officers in the background.
"What is with this assault? Protect and serve the people. You're a disgrace, you're a slave. You're a f------ disgrace.
"They're assaulting people."
An Auckland Council spokesman said the council had issued warrants under a new bylaw preventing overnight camping and protesters' gear was being removed from sites including Aotea Square, Albert Park and Victoria Park.
"We're removing their gear... we're not removing them," a council spokesman said.
A council officer has served the dozen protesters at Aotea Square with an order to vacate the square within 24 hours, but the protesters say they will stay.
Other Occupy supporters have turned up at the site, including the Unite union and veteran activist John Minto.
Auckland Council had successfully sought a court order to evict the occupants before Christmas although some remained.
The council had planned to go back to court today to obtain the powers to remove those who remained.
However, the spokesman said today they had now decided not to pursue that, saying "this is a separate action this morning."
One of the driving issues was the upcoming Lantern Festival at Albert Park, beginning on February 3, which would be attended by 250,000 people.
"We've had the problem in Aotea Square as well where community groups have booked the square, or booked the public parks for popular events, the planning for those events has been affected by these campers."
The protesters would have got in the way, he said.
"It would've been pretty hard to get around them, put it that way."
The spokesman said the campsite at Albert Park was also on an archaeological site, where old army barracks had been located, and they had received complaints about that.
Police would only intervene or make arrests if protesters breached the peace, he said.
Around 60 protesters from the anti-capitalist movement marched down Queen St yesterday to mark the 99th day of the protest.
The protesters began their Aotea Square occupation in mid-October, joining an international movement against corporate greed.
Occupy Wall St began the global protest in New York last September.
After the December court ruling, the Auckland protesters spread to other parts of the city, including Victoria Park, and had signalled their intention to expand to Albert Park, the North Shore and Te Atatu.
Other tents had appeared in Aotea Square over the holiday period, breaching the court order issued just before Christmas prohibiting camping there.
Before Christmas, the council went back to court to have the remaining occupants arrested, however the court rejected that.
Judge Philippa Cunningham said it would be difficult to determine who was residing at the camp and who was just visiting.
She was also concerned those arrested would not be able to get a bail hearing until January 4 due to the timing of the holidays.
Earlier this month, a lawyer acting on behalf of the council contacted Occupy protesters about their expansion plans.
In an email, Ross Burns told the group protest action in other council-administered areas would be in breach of bylaws prohibiting camping in public spaces.
He said breaching this bylaw could result in a fine of up to $20,000.
Burns said the protesters could also be charged with wilful damage if their camping resulted in damage to grassed areas and other public property.
Protesters have been criticised for damaging grass, native trees and potentially puncturing the waterproof membrane above the underground car park at Aotea Square.
Auckland Council estimates repair costs to that area already total more than $65,000. But occupiers insist grass is growing back and many say the estimated repair costs are absurd.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Sunday, 22 January 2012
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