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'Absurd and abhorrent' - NZDF denies claims training exercise is 'practising killing protestors'

The New Zealand Defence Force is flatly denying allegations its upcoming training exercise is "practising killing protestors", calling the accusations "absurd and abhorrent".

The Auckland Harbour Bridge. Source: istock.com

Yesterday the NZDF announced the Royal New Zealand Navy was holding a practice exercise over the weekend at Kauri Point, near the Auckland Harbour bridge.

In its original post, the exercise was described as containing "pyrotechnics, blank ammunition firing, drones, actors simulating a crowd of protestors and interaction with Fire and Emergency NZ".

It comes amid widespread protests in the US as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is against police brutality unproportionately targeting black people.

Several of those protests have turned violent, with police using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets against the crowds.

The NZDF's post has since been deleted and a clarification posted, but rumours and accusations have continued to fly.

Auckland Peace Action accused the Navy of "practising killing protestors", calling for the exercise to be canned.

"We are disappointed, disturbed and disgusted that the Royal New Zealand Navy is practising killing protestors. Is this what people believe a democratic society does? Is killing protesters the role of the Defence Force? Who or what are they defending, if they are killing people exercising democracy?" the group said in a fiery press release this morning.

"It is illegitimate for the Navy to do these practices. This is not the role of the Defence Force and we call upon them to halt these exercises and strongly reconsider their role."  

However the NZDF has fired back, saying Auckland Peace Action's statement "appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the exercise".

"To suggest that the Royal New Zealand Navy is practising 'killing protestors', in the words of Auckland Peace Action, is both absurd and abhorrent," an NZDF spokesperson told 1 NEWS.

"This exercise taking place in Kauri Point is both routine and long-planned and entirely unconnected with protest events taking place around the world. 

"The exercise, which we have publicised, is part of routine HMNZS Otago preparation for operational activities.

"The scenario is set in a fictitious overseas location; i.e. not New Zealand."

The "protestors" are people with "a hostile intent towards the ship and crew", the spokesperson says.

"This particular exercise would prepare the ship and crew for docking in a country where unrest is occurring, and where the vessel may be evacuating civilians, refuelling and resupplying, or taking part in security operations."

The training exercise will be taking place from Friday to Monday this weekend, during the daytime over several days, the NZDF says.

"As is the practice of the NZDF, the Royal New Zealand Navy gave notice of it through both traditional and social media in order to avoid alarming the community, who may hear loud noises."

Auckland Peace Action's Eliana Darroch isn't satisfied by the NZDF response, saying she finds it "concerning".

"Since they have changed their story, are they calling people with hostile intentions 'protestors'?" she says.

"We think this sends a dangerous message that using force on unarmed people could ever be acceptable.

"If NZDF are invading a country where the civilians there do not support the invasion, then the Navy is being hostile. Not the other way around. It is the violence that the Navy is performing, which threatens peace."

Ms Darroch says it's "irrelevant" that the event was planned.