By Angela Beswick
Protesters are planning to march on Mayor Len Brown’s office, after council staff and police retrieved camping equipment and vehicles from four Occupy Auckland sites this morning.
Police and Auckland City Council staff are meeting to decide their next move in the protest saga, after moving in on the Occupy sites at Aotea Square, 360 Queen St, Victoria Park and Albert Park, serving occupiers with notices regarding to breach of bylaws which prevent camping.
During the operation, two people were arrested and charged with breaching the peace.
They were held in a police van – under heavy police guard – where they could be heard loudly banging inside.
A third protester was also arrested and charged with breaching the peace, although it is unclear where the arrest took place.
There were scenes of anger and retaliation as occupiers tried desperately to keep their property. Protesters said they were confused and had no warning that their belongings were meant to be gone by today.
Protestors also claimed up to four police were wearing the same badge number - Z557 - to avoid being identified as they made arrests.
A Fairfax media photograph appears to partially confirm this with two different police officers wearing luminous yellow jackets with identically numbered epaulets.
They are now planning to occupy Mr Brown’s office and say they will march there at 5pm.
In a statement released to media, Auckland Council said its actions were consistent with the recent Auckland District Court decision that protesters cease residing in Aotea Square and remove various illegal structures.
“Auckland Council’s position is that people have a right to freedom of speech and protest, but not the right to camp indefinitely.”
The council says it will not allow illegal camping in Auckland’s public spaces, “which its citizens want returned to them”.
A council spokesman said the focus was on removing camping equipment from the public spaces.
“We’re removing their gear… we’re not removing them.”
Meanwhile, veteran protester John Minto, who was one of the first to pitch his tent in Aotea Square, says the council is being too “heavy-handed” on the peaceful protesters.
“The council sees them as a thorn in its side, but in fact they’re not interrupting the life of the city and in fact providing a vibrant element to it,” he told Newstalk ZB.
He says he is unsure what the protesters will do from here.
The move to evict the protesters comes just two days after they marched up Queen St to mark 99 days of occupation.
More than 100 protesters chanted and carried banners and balloons as they made their way up the central city street.
Occupy Auckland organisers said the march was to draw attention to injustices and inequalities in New Zealand, including the sale of state assets and the mining of national parks.
Before Christmas, Auckland Council was granted an injunction in the Auckland District Court to have the protesters leave Aotea Square, after Judge David Wilson ruled that the occupation breached a council bylaw.
The council had issued a trespass notice saying the protesters breached a bylaw banning camping and building structures in a public space without a permit.
Some protesters chose to remain in Aotea Square despite the court order, while others moved to another site across the road or to Victoria Park.
The Occupy Auckland group began their camp-out in Aotea Square on October 15, alongside other groups in Wellington and Dunedin, as part of a global protest movement which started in New York's Wall Street in September.
3 News / NZN