Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday that she was “horrified” by George Floyd’s death, and welcomed peaceful protests in New Zealand in solidarity, but noted that they flouted social distancing restrictions.
Thousands of New Zealanders marched peacefully on Monday amid protests in the U.S. and around the globe decrying how Floyd, a black American, died in police custody last week.
“I think I stand with everyone else in being horrified in what we’ve seen,” Ms. Ardern told state broadcaster TVNZ in an interview.
“I don’t want to stop peaceful protests… but rules are there to protect people,” she added, referring to social distancing restrictions on large gatherings.
Ms. Ardern has been described by some liberal supporters as an ”anti-Trump,” promoting issues such as social justice, multilateralism, and equality.
She was praised globally for her compassionate handling of the country’s worst mass shooting on March 15, 2019, when a suspected white supremacist killed 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch.
Ms. Ardern said her country’s response to that attack demonstrated that New Zealanders call out racism and hatred.
“Equally that means as a nation we call it out wherever we see it in a globalised world,” she told TVNZ, adding that she understood the sentiment of the protesters.
New Zealand has had no new coronavirus infections in the last 10 days and is on the verge of eliminating the virus domestically, with just one active case. The country was under lockdown for nearly seven weeks.
Ms. Ardern said all restrictions may be removed next week, as she plans to review them on June 8, earlier than the planned date of June 22. Pressure has been growing from the public and party leaders to ease curbs.
“We are exceeding our expectations in terms of our progress, which is a fantastic position to be in,” she said.