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Ihumātao: Dogs pepper-sprayed as more people arrested

Ihumātao protest: Dogs pepper-sprayed as more people arrested

Gill Bonnett, Reporter

Police have pepper-sprayed two dogs and arrested three people at the scene of a stand-off over contested Māori land in Auckland.

Police arrest a woman after she jumped on a Fletchers truck at Ihumātao this morning. Photo: RNZ / Gill Bonnett

The site at Ihumātao near Auckland Airport is due to be developed by Fletcher Building but has been the subject of a bitter dispute and occupation, and an eviction notice was served against occupiers yesterday.

Hundreds of demonstrators and dozens of police officers are now at the site, after a group of 50 stayed overnight. Three people were arrested yesterday.

Police said protesters attempted to obstruct a Fletcher's truck from gaining access through the cordon this morning and two were arrested.

One woman will face charges of obstruction and being unlawfully on a vehicle. A second person will be given a pre-charge warning for obstruction before being released.

Police said two "uncontrolled and aggressive" dogs also had to be pepper-sprayed at the cordon.

A third person was arrested shortly after noon. One man waving the Māori flag tino rangatiritanga broke through one of the police lines, in an apparent effort to get to the maunga, where there is a group of children and handful of adults.

An RNZ reporter on the scene said the man was arrested by a group of police.

A peaceful overnight demonstration with waiata and a camp fire turned into angry scenes shortly before 8am this morning when a contractors truck attempted to drive through the access road.

A spokesperson for the protesters group SOUL, Pania Newton, said that was despite an agreement with police that no more vehicles would go through.

"There was an agreement made this morning that no further vehicles would be entering onto the whenua," she said.

"The police have breached our trust. We no longer have any confidence in the New Zealand police."

Pauline Nathan at the Ihumātao demonstration. Photo: RNZ / Gill Bonnett

Another demonstrator, Pauline Nathan, said the area had been their playground as children and their grandparents grew up there, so they had to stand firm.

"I think our ancestors would be proud of us, I think that New Zealand should be proud of us Māori people, and they need to be here," she said.

Counties Manukau District Commander superintendent Jill Rogers said they have remained on site to ensure the safety of everyone present and prevent any breach of the peace, while allowing Fletcher Living to go about their lawful business.

They will remain at the site until the situation has been resolved.

"One of the protesters put their own safety at risk by climbing on to the truck and wedging themselves between the cabin and the tray, forcing the truck to stop to prevent any serious injuries," she said.

"Police at the cordon had to use pepper spray on two large uncontrolled and aggressive dogs this morning."

Ms Newton and one of the other protesters had touched the dogs and also suffered the effects of the pepper spray.

Meanwhile, dozens of people have also gathered near Parliament in Wellington to support the protesters:

But Labour MP Peeni Henare has dismissed the idea of Māori MPs stepping in to resolve the dispute at Ihumātao, saying they have tried everything they can to find a solution.

Mr Henare said MPs met with Fletchers, local iwi Te Kawerau ā Maki, and SOUL, but were unable to reach a consensus about how to move forward.

He said a suggestion was made for the government to buy back the land from Fletchers Building but it was turned down.

Ihumātao is next to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve in Māngere, home to New Zealand's earliest market gardens and a significant archaeological site on land considered wāhi tapu (sacred) by local hapū and iwi.

Part of the land, 32 hectares, is zoned as a Special Housing Area and is owned by Fletcher Building.

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