Hundreds of police take to capital Wellington's streets before dawn in bid to clear a camp that has clogged roads around parliament for more than three weeks.
Riot police have clashed with anti-vaccination demonstrators outside New Zealand's parliament in Wellington, using pepper spray and making dozens of arrests as they moved to end a long-running protest.
Hundreds of police took to the streets of the capital on Wednesday before dawn in a bid to clear a camp that has clogged roads around parliament for more than three weeks.
Officers with riot shields advanced on protesters yelling "Move, move", pulling down tents and towing vehicles from the area.
Demonstrators who resisted were pepper-sprayed and sporadic fighting erupted as police warned Wellington residents and office workers to steer clear of the area.
Police reported they has seen some protesters armed with pitchforks but said they "gained significant ground" during the operation, which continued into Wednesday morning.
Weeks of protests
The Wellington protest began as a movement against coronavirus vaccine mandates –– inspired by similar protests in the Canadian capital Ottawa.
It has grown to encompass a range of grievances, with some far-right messaging among the anti-government and anti-media slogans on display.
At its peak, about 3,000 people were camped outside parliament, but numbers have dwindled to a hardcore of about 300 in the past week.
Police have warned of unsanitary conditions and the camp has become a Covid-19 hotspot, with numerous cases reported among the largely unmasked demonstrators.
Wellington residents have complained about being abused by protesters for wearing masks, while schools and businesses close to the camp have closed.
The protesters have ignored numerous appeals from police and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to leave.
Prior to Wednesday, police had adopted a hands-off approach, setting up roadblocks to prevent the camp spreading as they tried to negotiate an peaceful end to the protest.
In recent weeks, they have accused protesters of hurling human faeces at them, spraying a "stinging substance" at officers and slashing tyres on police cars.
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