The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New Zealand switches on sprinklers, and ‘Baby Shark,’ to deter ‘Freedom Convoy’-inspired protesters

Protesters stand in wet conditions as they voice their opposition to coronavirus vaccine mandates at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, on Feb. 12. (Mark Mitchell/AP)

The cacophony outside New Zealand’s Parliament building continued on Sunday as officials upped the ante in their attempts to scatter protesters, blasting “Baby Shark,” “Let It Go” and other songs after sprinklers failed to deter the crowds.

The efforts did not appear successful, as the people protesting pandemic measures were heard singing along to a cringe-inducing recorder cover of “My Heart Will Go On,” standing their ground amid cries of “freedom!”

The anti-protest playlist included James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful,” to which protesters swayed their arms in the air, as well as “Let It Go” from the Disney movie “Frozen,” and the viral children’s hit “Baby Shark.” Decades-old Barry Manilow songs and the 1990s hit “Macarena” also reportedly made appearances.

Individuals gathered outside Parliament in Wellington for a sixth day, inspired by the massive trucker protests paralyzing the Canadian capital. As with the self-described “Freedom Convoy” in Canada, protesters in New Zealand are unhappy about coronavirus-related restrictions, with demonstrations growing to encompass broader grievances against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government. Similar protests have also sprung up around the globe, including in France and Australia.

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Parliament Speaker Trevor Mallard was taking song requests on Twitter for tunes to be added to the queue, tweeting out YouTube links to various songs. (The latest on Sunday was a suggestion by political commentator Emma Espiner for Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”)

It wasn’t clear whether Mallard himself was DJing — he tweeted out a threat of the recorder cover — but according to the New Zealand government, as speaker he has “control of Parliament Buildings and grounds.”

Blunt, the singer behind the mid-aughts ballad, took notice, telling New Zealand police to “give me a shout if this doesn’t work.”

Some of the demonstrators enduring the noise were cloaked in ponchos, as Cyclone Dovi brought downpours covering much of the weekend. The rain added to the sogginess from the sprinklers being switched on Friday.

“No-one who is here is here legally, and if they’re getting wet from below as well as above, they’re likely to be a little bit less comfortable and more likely to go home,” Mallard said in a statement to local media on Friday.

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

Images and videos on social media appeared to show individuals digging up trenches to divert the water, while other people placed cones on top of the sprinklers to keep dry or wore waterproof overcoats.

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New Zealand police said Sunday they were continuing to monitor and contain protest activity on Parliament grounds. Superintendent Corrie Parnell, Wellington district commander, said police were asking the protesters to “work with us to clear the roads, and allow the public freedom of movement for traffic and surrounding businesses while retaining their ability to protest lawfully.”

They were “offering to facilitate an alternative location for the vehicles and campervans” that were blocking roads while protesters continue their demonstration, Parnell said in a statement.

Police have found it difficult to “open clear and meaningful lines of communication” with protesters, Parnell said earlier, because the group has a “range of different causes and motivations.”

Misinformation, particularly on social media, has been identified as an issue, he said, expressing “concern” that children were being encouraged to attend the protest.

“It is important to note that Police on Parliament grounds continue to take a measured approach,” Parnell said. While police there had been seen carrying batons, “that was not in line with current approach and staff have now removed this equipment,” he added.

The relative mildness of using sprinklers to respond to protesters prompted humor on social media, with one local describing it as “the most New Zealand thing you will see today.”

“I hear New Zealand has turned the sprinklers on outside the Parliament building to dissuade the antivax protesters there. They’ll be drenched! I just hope no one offers them free rainsuits,” joked a Twitter user.

“So passive aggressive. Love it,” tweeted one person in New Zealand, while another wrote, “Overseas countries have water cannons, New Zealand has sprinklers.”

The sprinklers came on around 5 p.m. local time, according to the New Zealand Herald, and were set to “soak” rather than “spray” mode, drenching passersby in an otherwise relatively jubilant atmosphere.

Some 53 people have died so far from the coronavirus pandemic in New Zealand, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

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This month, Ardern said the island nation would begin to ease its pandemic border restrictions, first allowing in New Zealand citizens, residents and some visa holders who are fully vaccinated into the country while maintaining some requirements. In gradual steps, the country aims to lift all of its pandemic travel restrictions by October.

Ardern credited strict border restrictions for helping the country avoid large-scale deaths. But now, with the great majority of New Zealand’s 5 million people fully vaccinated, the prime minister said it was time to open up.

Rachel Pannett in Sydney contributed to this report.

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