After 23 days, the occupation at Aotearoa New Zealand’s Parliament was finally brought to a chaotic and violent end. The Detail talks to two reporters who were there as it all unfolded.
Torn tents, burnt trees and a scorched lawn were all that remained on Wednesday night of the 23-day protest on Parliament grounds.
That morning, when the operation to clear the occupation began, RNZ’s Charlotte Cook and Stuff’s Thomas Manch had arrived before daybreak.
Even before the first clashes erupted between the police and protesters, there was a sense of tension.
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“We had some suspicion that something was going to happen,” says Manch.
“You don’t get 500 police officers in a city without people noticing.”
For an hour it was quiet, but the protesters seemed agitated.
They knew something was up, too.
Noticed some signals
“They’d been talking about it on their channels, they’d noticed some of the signals that we’d noticed,” says Manch.
Protest security guards were communicating on their walkie-talkies and flashing strobe lights in the faces of the reporters.
“And then the police helicopter was in the air, that was the start of it, that was the beginning,” says Manch
Cook watched police officers come out of the back of Parliament, march past Lambton Quay and along Stout Street. The protesters were yelling.
“They were upset, they knew something was going to happen but what that looked like they weren’t sure”.
There were moments when both Cook and Manch feared for their safety.
Cook was nearly caught in the crossfire when protesters were hurling orange traffic cones at the police.
Manch says aggressive agitators, who were pushed away from the frontline by other protesters, turned on him and the Stuff visual journalist filming it.
“We were mobbed out of the protest site by a group of people who were very angry, very threatening and very aggressive.”
It was when Cook watched people standing in front of police cars and throwing whatever objects they could find that she knew the aggression and conflict would escalate.
The clashes continued for more than 14 hours as protesters and riot gear-clad police pushed up against each other again and again.
Manch watched as the police made their way towards Parliament, picking up tents as they went.
“They would advance, claim a bunch of the territory, clear it out with a forklift and then they would move again,” he says.
Cook says the last 23 days have left her in shock.
“It feels like such a distant memory that the Parliament forecourt and grass area were green and luscious — it was the kind of place you want to take your shoes off and rub your toes in the grass.”
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.