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Police reject claims Ihumātao organiser was pushed over amid tensions at the site

Ihumātao organiser Pania Newton says she's "bruised" and "battered" after tensions escalated at the protest sight overnight, alleging a male police officer pushed her to the ground.

However, police rejected claims a protestor was pushed over. Instead they say police have remained professional despite being subjected to verbal abuse, being physically shoved and even in some cases being spat on.

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Counties Manukau District Commander Superintendent Jill Rogers talked to 1 NEWS about the alleged incident. Source: 1 NEWS

Members of the group Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) group are continuing their occupation of the land at Māngere, trying to stop development company Fletcher Residential building several hundred houses on the site which is believed to be sacred land to Māori.

Nationwide rallies are planned today in support of Ihumātao protestors who've called on New Zealanders to hold a "national day of action".

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The Prime Minister talked to TVNZ1’s Breakfast about why police had to ramp up numbers on the frontline.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told TVNZ1’s Breakfast that overnight there was, or there were potentially attempts by protestors to move into a part of the site that the police have been ordered by a court to keep people off.

"That is what I believe is what led to the additional police numbers and the escalation," Ms Ardern said.

Ms Newton told 1 NEWS today she was knocked to the ground by an officer while checking on minors at the protest.

"Unfortunately I was caught in bit of confrontation last night. I was trying enter the gate where there was an opening and a police officer ran over and tried to close the gate on us, and unfortunately I was rammed and I fell to ground.

"I was only coming to check on the minors that were on this side," she said, adding a mother was concerned about her 15-year-old son who was on the frontline engaged in waiata.

The escalation happened just before whakamoemiti (time for prayer), Ms Newton said.

She believes police took the "opportune time to strike" last night when everything was quiet before the prayers.

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It’s been labelled the biggest Māori land protest in decades. Source: 1 NEWS

"There was a bit of panic and confusion and fear," she said.

"A number of male police officers started to get physical with our female land protectors down here at Ihumātao and yeah, it was frustrating but I was just really proud of everyone that they maintained our kaupapa of peace."

She said it was after a five hours stand off that they agreed to deescalate the numbers on both sides. She predicted there were about 100 police personnel compared with 400 or 500 protestors at its peak.

However, Counties Manukau District Commander Superintendent Jill Rogers said in a statement today police reject allegations that a protestor was pushed over.

"There is misinformation being circulated suggesting that police have broken agreements with protestors," Ms Rogers said.

"Police recognises the lawful right to protest. For the past two weeks, our purpose at Ihumātao has been to uphold the law and keep the peace." 

She said police had regular meetings with organisers to ensure that peace was kept.

"Yesterday, during a meeting with organisers, the protestors communicated their intent to move past the cordon and reoccupy the land."

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Save Our Unique Landscape leader Pania Newton spoke to TVNZ1’s Breakfast from the South Auckland site. Source: Breakfast

In response to this, police ramped up their number at the site, Ms Rogers said.

"Despite repeated warnings from police, a large group of protestors attempted to bypass the police cordon. Police attempted to stop those trespassing, but protestors pushed their way past our staff."

The protestors eventually vacated the private land and no arrests were made.

"Police cannot facilitate unlawful activity by allowing protestors who have been served an eviction notice to trespass on private land," Ms Rogers said.

"We would like to acknowledge the incredible professionalism our staff showed yesterday evening, and throughout the last two weeks despite at times being subjected to verbal abuse, being physically shoved and even in some cases being spat on.

"Police will continue to assess the situation and our operational response, including talking to the protest organisers."

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Police numbers escalated overnight amid tensions at the site where hundreds are protesting the building of houses on sacred Māori land. Source: 1 NEWS