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New Zealand tries old earworm tricks to flush out protesters |

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Some countries may send a riot squad to disperse trespassing protesters. In New Zealand, authorities turned on the sprinklers and Barry Manilow.

The first measures to try to flush out several hundred demonstrators who have been camping on the lawns of Parliament since Tuesday have had little effect.

Protesters, who have voiced their opposition to coronavirus vaccination mandates, have responded to sprinkler soaking by digging trenches and installing makeshift drainage pipes to divert water.

When a downpour hit on Saturday, their numbers only increased. Protesters brought bales of straw, which they scattered across the increasingly soggy grounds of Parliament. Some shouted, others danced and one group performed an indigenous Maori haka.

By evening, Speaker of Parliament Trevor Mallard had proposed a new plan to make protesters uncomfortable: use a public address system to blast messages about vaccines, decades-old Barry Manilow songs and the 1990s earworm hit “Macarena” on repeat loop.

Protesters responded by playing their own tunes, including “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twister Sister.

The protest began when a convoy of trucks and cars traveled to Parliament from across the country, inspired by the protests in Canada. At first there were more than 1,000 protesters, but that number dwindled as the week progressed before rising again on Saturday.

Police have taken a more passive approach since Thursday, when they arrested 122 people and charged many with trespassing or obstruction. Police, who wore body armor but did not use riot gear or firearms, tried to advance slowly on the protesters.

But this resulted in a number of physical clashes. A video of two policewomen briefly dragging a naked woman by her hair in the middle of a fight has gone viral.

In response to questions from The Associated Press, New Zealand police said they had not removed the woman’s clothing as some people claimed online, and that she had been naked for “some time” before his arrest. Police also said the images and videos did not provide the full context of the protest activity or the situation police were dealing with.

Still, the scuffles appeared to be prompting the police to rethink their strategy, who seemed happier to wait for the week to progress. But on Friday, Mallard, the Speaker of Parliament, had seen enough and told staff to turn on the sprinklers overnight.

“I ordered them,” he confirmed to the AP.

“Nobody who’s here is here legally, and if they get wet from below like from above, they’ll probably be a little less comfortable and more likely to come home,” Mallard said, according to the news agency. Things.

“Some people have suggested that we add the vaccine to the water, but I don’t think it works that way,” he joked.

Mallard told media he was also responsible for the audio system loop.

Some of the protesters’ vehicles remained parked in the middle of the streets around Parliament, forcing some street closures. The National Library and many cafes and bars in the area closed during the protest. Police say a protester had a medical event on Friday night and an ambulance was unable to reach him due to vehicles blocking the streets, which delayed his treatment.

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”.

The grounds of Parliament have often been 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 who gathered in parliament after a summer break were in rare unison in not acknowledging the protesters.

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. Last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the country would end its quarantine requirements for incoming travelers in stages as it reopens its borders. With around 77% of New Zealanders vaccinated, Ardern also promised that she would no longer impose lockdowns.

An outbreak of the omicron variant has developed, with New Zealand reporting a record 454 new community cases on Saturday. But none of the 27 people hospitalized as a result of the outbreak needed to be in intensive care beds.