Germany coronavirus: ‘Anti-corona’ protests in Berlin draws thousands

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Media captionThousands took to the streets of Berlin to rally against coronavirus restrictions

Thousands of people have protested in the German capital, Berlin, angry at coronavirus restrictions.

Some 38,000 people took part in a march that split into two main groups.

Police ordered one group near the Unter den Linden to disperse for flouting safety rules, then arrested 200 after rocks and bottles were thrown.

A second group of about 30,000 met peacefully west of the Brandenburg gate to hear speeches from, among others, the nephew of President John F Kennedy.

Although Germany has so far not seen the wave of cases affecting some parts of Europe, its infection rate has been growing. New case numbers are reaching highs last seen in April.

What has been happening?

Police issued an order for a protest around the Unter den Linden, near the Brandenburg Gate, to disperse at about midday after participants refused to keep a safe distance from each other, the authorities said.

“Unfortunately, we have no other option,” Berlin police said on Twitter. “All the measures taken so far have not led to compliance with the conditions.”

Protesters were closely packed in places, and sat together on the ground at one point.

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Reuters

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Attila Hildmann spoke to protesters outside the Russian Embassy on Unter den Linden

Some demonstrators remained gathered there in the early evening, with bottles and rocks thrown at police.

Among the 200 people arrested was cookery author and conspiracy theorist Attila Hildmann, who had addressed crowds through a loudspeaker.

The other main group of around 30,000 people to the west of the Brandenburg Gate was respecting the rules, Interior Minister Andreas Geisel said.

A ban had originally been imposed on Saturday’s protest but a court overturned it. Mr Geisel said he regretted the way the violence had developed but that the situation was “predictable”.

Berlin police tweeted at about 22.40 local time (20:40 GMT) that their operations were ending, saying there had been peaceful protests by tens of thousands but that officers had also suffered verbal abuse.

Who is involved in the Berlin protests?

Mr Geisel said the people protesting outside the Russian Embassy on Unter den Linden were “right-wing extremists” and that seven police officers had been injured.

Some protesters then broke through a cordon at the Reichstag building and were dispersed by police using pepper spray.

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Reuters

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Some protesters broke through to the Reichstag before being dispersed

German news site Deutsche Welle reported that flags and T-shirts supporting the far right could be seen among the crowd.

The demonstration to the west of the Gate at the Victory Column was organised by the Stuttgart-based movement Querdenken 711 (or Lateral Thinking 711). The group has more than 16,000 followers on Facebook and communicates largely through encrypted messaging service Telegram.

It believes that coronavirus regulations infringe on basic rights and freedoms enshrined in Germany’s constitution and wants them to be lifted.

The group previously organised a protest in Berlin on 1 August dubbed the “day of freedom”. Thousands joined, including some from the far right and some conspiracy theorists who do not believe Covid-19 exists.

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EPA

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Protesters near the Victory Column hold a banner reading “first wave, second wave, permanent wave?”

The protests have also gained support from Robert F Kennedy Jr. The anti-vaccination campaigner, also the son of assassinated US Democratic presidential hopeful Robert F Kennedy and nephew of assassinated US President John F Kennedy, is at the demonstrations in Berlin.

Mr Kennedy told the crowd at the Victory Column that his uncle had famously addressed Berlin in 1963 to counter totalitarianism and that “today Berlin is again the front against totalitarianism”, warning of a surveillance state and the power of 5G phone networks.

Photos shared online also showed flags and slogans linked to the conspiracy theory QAnon. The wide-ranging, unfounded conspiracy theory says that US President Donald Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media, among other claims.

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Reuters

Image caption

The protests have drawn a range of different groups

Participants also included families and children. Some people have said they just want the right to protest.

One demonstrator, Stefan, a 43-year-old Berlin resident, told Agence France-Presse: “I’m not an extreme right-wing sympathiser, I’m here to defend our fundamental freedoms.”

Another protester told TV station ARD the number of “severely sick” was “trending downward”, adding: “At the same time we have more testing. And we have measures that are totally out of proportion. This craziness must be stopped and allow a normal life again.”

Counter-protests against the main march also took place, with about 100 people at one rally. “You are marching with Nazis and Fascists,” shouted some participants, according to broadcaster RBB.

One counter-protester told AFP: “Querdenken is openly right-wing… by marching together with them today… you offer them a stage in the middle of society. And that is not acceptable.”

What are Germany’s Covid-19 measures?

The country was one of the most effective in enforcing the framework of response referred to as prevent, detect, contain and treat.

It has been particularly effective in keeping the death rate among the over 70s lower.

It began relaxing physical distancing in early April but continued to track infections, which have seen a rise in August.

On Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 federal states introduced a minimum €50 (£45; $59) fine for failing to wear a face mask where ordered. A ban on major public events was also extended until next year.

Mrs Merkel said: “We will have to live with this virus for a long time to come. It is still serious.” She said it would become more challenging in the winter.

Germany has recorded 242,000 infections, fewer than the other major European nations. Its figure of 9,297 deaths is considerably lower than the numbers in Russia, the UK, Spain, France and Italy, Johns Hopkins University research shows.



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