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Mixed reaction over student 'blockade' protests

Published: 10:13AM Saturday June 02, 2012 Source: ONE News

A student rally that brought central Auckland streets to a standstill will regroup next week to plan further protest action.

Students say they will be forging ahead with the Blockade the Budget demonstrations, and are planning protests in Auckland and Wellington.

Yesterday, students staged a sit-in on Symonds Street, a busy road located by the University of Auckland.

Video captured by ONE News showed police picking off protesters one at a time and arresting them.

Some people thought the students were going too far with the protest.

"It was pretty crazy, I don't like it... pretty extreme to be honest, for just a bit of money," one man told ONE News.

Another said: "It would be more effective for those people to be doorknocking in the lower social economic communities and getting those people to vote."

The protests were provoked by changes to student loans and allowances announced in Bill English's Budget on May 24.

Around 200 protesters made their way through central Auckland, blocking Queen Street as they walked toward the Auckland central police station.

The group then returned to Queen St before dispersing.

Police arrested 43 people, four of whom were charged with disturbing the peace. The rest were let off with formal warnings.

In a statement the University of Auckland told ONE News it supports students' rights to freedom of speech, but added protests should also be peaceful and not pose any threat to the safety of students or the public.

'Brutal' reaction from police

Protesters accused the police of heavy handed tactics at yesterday's protest.

"This is incredibly brutal," one protester told ONE News.

"Last week we were allowed to have a protest in the same street for over five hours."

Around 400 people turned up to a protest on Symonds Street held last week.

Yesterday's protest was dubbed "Blockade the Budget Part II: Protest Like the Greeks," in response to a comment from Finance Minister Bill English that the protesters "need some Greeks to show them how to do it".

The changes announced in the Budget include increasing the repayment rate for student loans from 10% to 12% and only allowing students to take allowances if they are in their first four years of study.

The protesters fear the changes will discourage students from low income families from doing long degrees or post-graduate study, therefore restricting occupations in law, medicine or engineering to a privileged few.