COVID-19 protesters force cancellation of ACT Lifeline charity book fair and break down barricades in Parliament

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Thousands of demonstrators again took to the streets of Canberra to protest against a number of issues, including the COVID-19 vaccination mandates.

The protesters have been in the ACT since late January. However, overnight there was a “large influx” of people at the Canberra Exhibition Center (EPIC), police said.

Three people were arrested by the police during the day. A man was arrested after driving his truck through a roadblock, while two others were taken into custody for breaching the peace.

By midday on Saturday, protesters had gathered on the lawns of Parliament, and despite warnings from ACT police to stay behind barricades, at least 100 broke through the fence, with police holding their lines only from one meter.

A man jumped over a barricade and was chased by two officers in the center of the forecourt.

The man was taken away in handcuffs as bystanders cheered him on.

Police warned protesters they would be arrested if they followed suit.

They urged Canberra residents to avoid the roads around EPIC, Northbourne Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue as protesters made their way to Parliament.

Police also said an assault took place at the offices of the Canberra Harness Racing Club at Canberra Exhibition Center on Thursday afternoon.

Police said one person was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries and asked anyone with information about the incident to contact Crime Stoppers.

Thousands of demonstrators camped at the EPIC site.(ABC News: Toby Hunt)

Prime Minister urges protesters to demonstrate peacefully

Prime Minister Scott Morrison weighed in on the protests in the nation’s capital.

“My message to them [demonstrators] today Australia is a free country and they have the right to protest, and I would ask them to do so in a peaceful and respectful way,” he said.

Mr Morrison reminded protesters that state governments were largely responsible for vaccination mandates and it was not a Commonwealth issue.

“I’m going to be very clear on the issue of vaccine mandates: [The] The Commonwealth government has only ever supported mandates for older workers, disabled workers and those working in high-risk situations in the healthcare system,” he told a news conference. .

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully. (AAP Photo: Mike Tsikas)

“All other vaccine-related mandates were imposed unilaterally by state governments.

“They were not put in place by the Commonwealth Government. In fact, the Commonwealth Government cannot impose such a mandate.

A man speaks to a group of microphones.  He is flanked by two women, one on his left and the other on his right.
Anthony Albanese said the protesters’ behavior would not win them support.(Provided: MP Anthony Albanese)

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese had a simple message for protesters: “Go home”.

“Don’t engage in the kind of behavior we’ve seen… It doesn’t help any cause. It doesn’t help the kind of nonsense we’ve seen from people dressed in military camouflage walking around Canberra,” he said. -he declares. noted.

He encouraged protesters to consider “the facts that exist”, “and the facts are that you are much more likely to avoid getting COVID if you are fully vaccinated”.

Mr Albanese said protesters were ignoring the pressure on health systems and the hard work of health care workers over the previous months.

“Have some respect for people who have worked beyond reasonable standards…working long hours, under extraordinary pressure to keep fellow Australians safe and cared for,” he said. declared.

“Go home.”

Lifeline book fair canceled due to protesters

Protesters caused damage to the EPIC exhibition ground, where the Lifeline charity book fair was due to take place today.

Police said that due to the growing number of people attending the rally, the fair was cancelled.

“Overnight, a large influx of people into EPIC saw the fences moved and campers moved to areas other than campsites,” an ACT police spokesperson said.

Demonstrators in the parliamentary triangle.
At least 100 demonstrators broke through the barricades on Saturday at noon.(ABC News: Tahlia Roy)

Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie Leeson told the ABC the charity did not want to put the community at risk by continuing the fair.

“Unfortunately overnight, around 10,000-15,000 people descended on the fairgrounds in addition to those who were here, and the behaviors and conduct that were broadcast online last night made the decision very easy” , she said.

“We won’t put our community at risk and ask them to come here.”

Ms Leeson said protesters caused damage to the site overnight.

Yesterday ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr confirmed that campers must leave EPIC on Sunday evening so the site can be prepared for the Canberra Show.

He warned that if the protesters did not move, the police would react accordingly.

“We’ve already been through this process once in terms of managing a movement at the end of a protest, so the same will apply,” he said.

“Police are ready and we have the numbers to move one of the last stragglers who are not moving at the conclusion of their rental agreement to rent the campground,” he added.

The ACT Government has also announced it will donate $25,000 to Lifeline Canberra following the cancellation of the book fair today.

Police have reminded protesters that they must vacate the EPIC fairgrounds by Sunday February 13.

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