A New Zealand government minister yesterday said that he was punched in the face while walking to work in an attack that is rare in a country where politicians often mingle with the public in stores, bars and sports arenas.
New Zealand Minister for Climate Change James Shaw, who is also coleader of the Green Party, was walking past the Wellington Botanic Garden just before 8am when a man started talking to him before grabbing him and punching him several times, said Shaw’s press secretary, Peter Stevens.
Two people came along to help and the man jumped in a vehicle and drove away, Stevens said, adding that Shaw sustained a black eye and grazes on his wrist, and was being assessed at Wellington Hospital.
A 47-year-old man has been arrested, police said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that she had spoken with Shaw soon after the attack and he had told her he was doing fine.
She said that she told him to take whatever time he needed to recover and her thoughts were with him and his wife.
“When you go into politics in New Zealand, you just don’t expect these things to happen, and I know it will be especially challenging for loved ones,” Ardern said in a statement.
She said she could not say much more about the attack, as it was the subject of a police investigation.
“We have an environment in New Zealand where politicians are accessible, and that’s something we should feel proud of,” Ardern said. “We are, after all, here to serve people, but today’s events really show we cannot take that for granted.”
New Zealand historically has had few instances of terrorism or politically motivated crimes.
Among politicians, typically only the prime minister gets round-the-clock protection from the New Zealand Police’s Diplomatic Protection Service, while others might get temporary protection during election campaigns or when needed.
Shaw was walking with his headphones on listening to music when the man approached, Stevens said.
The attacker seemed to recognize Shaw, but the conversation was brief and somewhat random, he said.
Shaw asked the man to let go of him before he was punched, he added.
“He’s feeling a bit tender and a bit shaken up,” Stevens said.
Shaw was very grateful for the people who helped intervene, and for police and ambulance crews who arrived quickly, he added.
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