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Ihumātao police presence 'very intimidating' - protest leader Pania Newton

Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen.

The increased police presence at Ihumātao last night was very intimidating and there was a five-hour standoff, protest leader Pania Newton says.

Dozens of police officers lined up last night, blocking Ihumātao Quarry Road, with crowds of land defenders standing in front of them.

Campaign organiser Pania Newton told Morning Report the police numbers swelled just before the community's time of prayer.

Ms Newton said police cordoned off the road and separated one camp, which was the front line, from the other and threatened to trespass and arrest the occupiers.

"We're not too sure why, it was very unexpected," she said.

"It was very intimidating... I was concerned about the safety of the people."

"There were hundreds of people in the dark roaming the land. They were all here to protect it," Ms Newton said.

"There were many [police] in the paddocks, many on the front line, there was a very strong presence."

SOUL co-founder Pania Newton at Ihumātao on 24 July, 2019. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook.

Ms Newtown said there was a bit of "pushback" and "aggression" from police when she went through a gate to check on younger protesters.

"I was coming through the gate and a police officer ran over and pushed the gate against me and I stumbled onto the ground and a lot of people rushed over and were very concerned.

"But luckily enough we were able to take control of the situation and everyone kept peaceful and calm."

Social media users have posted videos and grabs of live streams of the incident. RNZ has asked police for a response to the allegation Ms Newton was pushed over.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government was not involved in decisions made by police at Ihumātao.

Ms Ardern told Morning Report she understood police were concerned about a particular part of the site that was subject to a court order.

"My understanding was there was concern around an area of the land where there is a court order that those on the land cannot occupy and there was concern that that line would be breached overnight."

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Ms Ardern said she was relying on second-hand information about what was happening, and when asked about not visiting the site said she had not ruled out going there in future.

"I do think we have a role to play in trying to facilitate a solution. In the meantime I'll keep encouraging that those who are there.

We just try and maintain that peaceful presence while talks are ongoing. You will have seen Kīngitanga and Tainui present over the weekend, they're supporting and helping to facilitate talks, that's happening as we speak."

Police have yet to respond to a request for comment this morning, but last night Superintendent Jill Rogers that more officers had been deployed.

"The decision has been made to deploy additional police officers to maintain order and ensure there is no breach of the peace.

"Police are also continuing to have ongoing dialogue with protest organisers to ensure protest action remains peaceful."

In an additional statement to RNZ, police said: "This was an operational decision to ensure safety."

A police spokesperson said there had been no arrests made nor trespass notices issued. Police would not specify how many extra officers had been deployed.

Ms Newton said police had previously been helpful and peaceful but the mood suddenly changed last night.

She said senior officers at the site told her they didn't agree with the increase in numbers and were looking at de-escalating but needed direction from the top.

"It took many hours - there was a standoff for about five hours."

Ms Newton said hundreds of supporters turned up once they saw live video of the incident.

Protesters line the roadside outside the Fletcher Building office in Penrose. Photo: RNZ / Gillian Bonnett.

Later in the morning about 80 people protested outside Fletcher Building's Auckland headquarters against the company's proposed development at Ihumātao.

The rally is part of a national day of action, with four protests taking place around the country.

The protests were organised before police numbers increased at the site last night.

Demonstrators lined the roadside opposite Fletchers' building on Great South Road, Penrose, holding up banners, flags and placards.

This article was first published on Radio NZ.