Protesters had the better of day one at New Zealand Petroleum Conference 2017

SIMON O'CONNOR/Stuff.co.nz

Police and protesters clash outside Petroleum Conference in New Plymouth.

Protesters have claimed a victory in their bid to disrupt a petroleum conference that left some delegates with war stories to tell for years to come.

Up to 200 protesters had blocked all entrance ways to the New Zealand Petroleum Conference 2017 at New Plymouth's TSB Showplace on Wednesday and delegates had to be smuggled in through side doors and back entrances, delaying the start of the conference by hours.

The actions of the protesters were highly organised with leaders communicating via hand held radios and others bringing protesters food and drink through the day.

Police held back protesters who tried to block the entrance to the TSB Showplace in New Plymouth.
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

Police held back protesters who tried to block the entrance to the TSB Showplace in New Plymouth.

Lisa England, who runs a shop next to the TSB Showplace, claimed protesters had been in her store weeks before on a reconnaissance mission. 

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"They were taking pictures of the shop and the back entrance and I asked if they needing anything but they said they had what they wanted," England said.

Police had to physically remove protesters, who wanted to delay the New Zealand Petroleum Conference 2017.
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

Police had to physically remove protesters, who wanted to delay the New Zealand Petroleum Conference 2017.

The protest was organised by a coalition of environmental groups, including Greenpeace and Climate Justice Taranaki.

Spokeswoman Emily Bailey described the events of the day as positive.

"We delayed the conference by a few hours and some of the delegates were unable to get in," she said.

SIMON O'CONNOR/Stuff.co.nz

Protests were held outside the New Zealand Petroleum Conference 2017 in New Plymouth, delaying the start of the conference.

"We spent a few months planning and a lot of us have experience with this sort of thing."

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That experience was obvious as protesters exploited weak spots in the security at the event and coordinated their movements to cause maximum disruption.

When a fence protecting the back of the TSB Showplace had been narrowly opened to sneak in a group of delegates, protesters immediately hurled themselves against the gate, which swayed as a sea of people clashed against one another.

Protesters chanted and sang, asking to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy.
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

Protesters chanted and sang, asking to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy.

About 8.45am police began to forcibly manhandle protesters from one of the access ways to allow delegates safe entry and their actions were met by coalition members jumping barricades and attempting to bulldoze police, despite the protest planned as a peaceful event.

Police, who plucked up several protesters by their arms and feet, had to also wrestle with the cheering crowd as they tried to clear the area.

"You're hurting her," one protester screamed.

The protesters were a coalition of groups, including Greenpeace and Climate Justice Taranaki.
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

The protesters were a coalition of groups, including Greenpeace and Climate Justice Taranaki.

At least two arrests had been made.

But by 12.30pm, the talk inside the conference between delegates was all about their battle through the crowds, sneaking in through underground tunnels and secret backdoor entrances of nearby businesses.

"Hey, you made it," some delegates had congratulated others.

Some protesters collided with police outside the TSB Showplace while attempting to block conference delegates from ...
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

Some protesters collided with police outside the TSB Showplace while attempting to block conference delegates from attending the two-day event.

One conference attendee had dirt on his white button-up and said he had been "roughed up".

Another delegate said she was smashed in the gate while her colleague told a tale of wandering a basement tunnel.

Protesters had packed out the front entrance by 12.30pm, slamming open palms against the glass doors and chanting songs. 

Protesters linked arms and pushed against police who tried to make way for conference delegates.
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

Protesters linked arms and pushed against police who tried to make way for conference delegates.

Some blew bubbles and others danced.

Several delegates were watching from inside and smiled.

"It's impressive for New Plymouth," one said.

Protesters tried to resist police who had to physically remove the coalition members as they blocked entrances to the ...
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

Protesters tried to resist police who had to physically remove the coalition members as they blocked entrances to the conference venue.

Conference delegates had been warned of protests via a conference app notification in the morning.

The first, sent out shortly after 7am, said: "There are protesters outside the main conference venue. Please hold off arriving for 15 minutes."

About 20 minutes later a second alert was sent out saying: "Please do not come to the King Street entrance. Go to the Mayfair, 69 Devon St West. Do not wait outside the venue."

Protesters rushed the entrance of The Mayfair and delegates were warned to avoid the restaurant and the venue until ...
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

Protesters rushed the entrance of The Mayfair and delegates were warned to avoid the restaurant and the venue until further notice.

Conference attendees gathered at The Mayfair bar near the venue and, when ushered inside, a group of protesters rushed to block the entrance.

A woman from the Earth Guardian organisation dressed as an angel stood at the bar's entrance with wings made of cloth, with the names of supporters from throughout the country written on the bits of fabric.

A third notification from the app asked delegates to stay away from The Mayfair and conference venue until further notice.

Protesters blocked the entrance to The Mayfair after conference delegates were ushered inside for protection.
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

Protesters blocked the entrance to The Mayfair after conference delegates were ushered inside for protection.

Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand (Pepanz) CEO Cameron Madgwick said while the protest was expected it was still disappointing.

"We expect protesters to respect the rights of our delegates to attend the conference and be mindful of the impact their actions are causing to the people of New Plymouth."

Madgwick, who was inside the conference venue by 5.30am, said a detailed security plan was in action. 

Police have said they will consider intervention if need be.
SIMON O'CONNOR/Fairfax NZ

Police have said they will consider intervention if need be.

"We're working with our security team to ensure the safety and protection of our delegates," he said.

Two final groups of delegates were collected from Petit Paris cafe about 300m from the conference at about 10am and the TSB Showplace carpark on King St at 10.30am on Wednesday, allowing the event to officially begin, Pepanz communications manager Stephen Jones said.

Conference delegates were to attend a gala dinner at the TSB Stadium on Wednesday night, but protesters planned to blockade the entrances by 6.30pm.

Phrases and pictures have been drawn on the road and footpath outside the conference venue.
SIMON O'CONNOR/Fairfax NZ

Phrases and pictures have been drawn on the road and footpath outside the conference venue.

Some attendees said they would skip the event, saying they'd rather not be met with hostile protesters.

"If it's anything like today, then I'll skip it and find something in town," one delegate said.

About 50 protesters had gathered in the stadium's car park by 7.30pm on Wednesday, with about 30 police in attendance.

Although the protesters were making a great deal of noise, the gathering appeared to be peaceful.

 

 

 - Stuff

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