Protesters say police looking for trouble

By David Eames

A peace group has declared war on police, claiming heavy-handed and provocative actions during a protest in Auckland at the weekend.

About 100 protesters - part of a Global Peace and Justice Auckland organised march - demonstrated at the ANZ Bank on the corner of Queen and Victoria Sts, protesting over military action in Iraq and the bank's involvement in a consortium managing the Trade Bank of Iraq.

Four people were arrested as police broke up the Saturday demonstration. Three were charged with obstruction and a fourth with assaulting a police officer.

But a peace group committee member, John Minto, yesterday attacked the police actions, calling their behaviour "provocative, heavy-handed and violent".

He has written to Police Commissioner Rob Robinson protesting at specific actions, including:

* The provocative action of police in escorting a vehicle through the middle of the demonstration.

* The "violent manhandling" of protesters, and the "violent arrest" of four peace group supporters.

* The "provocative" use of plain-clothed police and police photographers.

* The taking of "dozens" of photographs of protesters at a simultaneous protest in Wellington.

Mr Minto said in his letter that police held a "long-standing, deep-seated, simmering resentment" of protest groups.

Similar police actions in Auckland and Wellington showed "a co-ordinated attempt by the police to assert their authority over the right to peaceful protest".

A spokeswoman for Mr Robinson said no comment would be made until his office had an opportunity to study the letter.

One protester, Simon Oosterman, claimed to have been assaulted by a police officer while being held in a patrol car.

Mr Oosterman said he had been arrested on a charge of obstructing a footpath, and was put in a stranglehold while waiting to be taken away.

"He held my jugular with his fingers so tight it sounded like I had helium in my throat."

He said he had been "passively resisting" his arrest when he was assaulted in the patrol car. A police officer slammed the driver's seat back into his knees, and claimed the protesters "were just like the Springbok Tour people".

"He was just mocking me. It was completely inappropriate."

Mr Oosterman - who caused a scene at the Auckland District Court a few weeks ago when he turned up naked for a court appearance - was due to appear in the district court today in relation to Saturday's protest.

He was also scheduled for a status hearing today, the latest appearance on a charge of indecent exposure stemming from a naked bike ride against oil dependency.
The Herald on Sunday yesterday published a photograph of a police sergeant holding a 16-year-old youth forcefully by the throat.

Mr Oosterman claims it was the same officer who assaulted him.

Auckland police spokeswoman Noreen Hegarty last night described the incident as "an absolute nothing".

She said the police officer in the photograph was still on duty.

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