WELLINGTON: Thousands of protestors took to the streets across New Zealand on Tuesday to criticise the newly elected conservative government for its policies toward the Indigenous Maori population.
The country’s Te Pati Maori party backed the demonstrations in Auckland, Wellington and several other cities that snarled commuter traffic and provided an early leadership test for Prime Minister Christopher Luxon.
Maori leaders accuse Luxon’s conservative coalition of racist policies, including undermining a treaty that protects Indigenous rights.
The coalition government, sworn in last Monday, also wants to switch the names of some departments from Maori to English and close the Maori Health Authority, Te Aka Whai Ora.
Police estimate around 300 vehicles took part in protests in New Zealand’s largest city Auckland, where two arrests were made.
The early morning protests coincided with the opening session of the new New Zealand parliament in Wellington.
“The protest this morning was more of an activation of our people,” said Rawiri Waititi, co-leader of Te Pati Maori co-leader, speaking to Radio New Zealand.
He joined a group of around 600 people in Wellington, some draped in Maori flags and carrying signs reading “Honour the Treaty”, who marched through the capital before rallying in front of parliament.
“This is about pulling our people together, standing as one to protect the Treaty of Waitangi, the very document which allows us to live here freely,” Waititi added.
The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi was an agreement between British colonial powers and Indigenous Maori chiefs.
The centre-right government led by the conservative National Party was voted into power following general elections in October.
Luxon rejected the protestors’ criticism of his fledgling government.
“I think it’s pretty unfair, to be honest,” Luxon told reporters. “The reality is we’ve been in government for a week. We are going to get things done for Maori and non-Maori.”