TPPA: protest groups call for peaceful opposition at Auckland signing
Protesters are calling for peace at demonstrations to oppose the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, as officials keep quiet on how they will contain the thousands expected to hit the streets.
Trade ministers from the 12 countries involved in the controversial free trade deal will attend a TPPA signing ceremony on Thursday, at the SkyCity convention centre in Auckland.
Several groups have arranged protests against the deal, with the main rally from It's Our Future expected to draw thousands of Kiwis to a march down Queen Street.
It's Our Future spokesman Barry Coates said people from all over New Zealand were taking part, and he believed the final turnout could be "a lot more" than the up to 10,000 who marched against the deal last August.
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"We've been hearing from all sorts of corners across society that people are unhappy...there's an anger and frustration that the Government really isn't listening."
While there had been "scaremongering" about potential violence at the march, Coates said organisers had been clear it would be a family-friendly event.
"It's going to be absolutely non-violent, peaceful, colourful, loud, fun, and it's really a march for the huge numbers of New Zealanders who don't like this agreement and want to be able to have a say."
Marchers would meet in Aotea Square at midday for short speeches and chanting practice, before walking down Queen Street.
Coates said organisers had stayed in touch with police to keep them informed about their plans, and the march would not go to the convention centre.
'EXHAUSTED EVERY OTHER OPTION'
However, a separate protest group, Real Choice, is planning a non-violent blockade of the area around SkyCity.
Real Choice spokeswoman Julia Espinoza said 900 people had indicated on Facebook they would take part, although organisers would be happy with half that.
Espinoza said the group would meet in Aotea Square at 9am to run through their plans, before heading towards SkyCity.
Depending on how close the group could get to the convention centre, protesters would try to blockade an entrance, occupy an intersection or "make a whole lot of noise" to disrupt the signing.
Espinoza said the group had no plans to "storm the building or anything like that", and had emphasised to members that their blockade would be non-violent.
"When you've exhausted every other option, whether it be protest marches or petitions or making public submissions through parliament...sometimes direct action is your last resort, and there are ways to do it in a peaceful manner."
Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Sue Bradford said the advocacy group would be supporting both protests. An anti-TPPA hikoi will also be in Auckland for the signing, and is expected to attend both protests.
QUIET ON SECURITY
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said the ministry would not discuss any details regarding security.
However, Mfat deputy secretary David Walker said: "We'll be looking to ensure that all our guests are safe and have an enjoyable experience here in New Zealand."
Police are also cagey about details of how they will manage events on the day, despite reportedly undertaking riot training in the lead-up.
Superintendent Chris Scahill, the national response and operations manager, said police would handle "all aspects of safety and security" for the TPPA signing, with staff from a number of districts being called in to help.
Scahill said police were working closely with Mfat, but would not discuss any "operational details" for the event, including how many police would be involved.
"We can however say that we plan for every eventuality which can be anticipated, and the measures we take will be appropriate and thorough."
NO ROAD CLOSURES
An Auckland Transport spokesman said the organisation had no road closures or traffic management planned for the event, but would support any requests from police on the day.
Auckland Council chief operating officer Dean Kimpton said council staff at CBD buildings near the convention centre would be allowed to work from home, or at other offices, to avoid disruption from the signing and protests.
"The strategy is to try and reduce the pressure on this immediate environment [and] if people don't need to be here, great - they can choose to work somewhere else, and we've got both the offices and the technology to support that."
Kimpton said the council would have security guards at both buildings on Thursday, which would otherwise be "a normal working day".