Berlin protest against viral restrictions draws thousands

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Berlin (AFP)

A demonstration in Berlin against the coronavirus restrictions drew thousands of people, from the far left and the right to conspiracy theorists on Saturday.

Police estimated the turnout at 15,000 – well below the 500,000 announced by organizers as they urged a “free day” after months of viral restrictions.

“We are the second wave,” some shouted as protesters made their way to the Brandenburg Gate while others called for “resistance”, calling the pandemic “the biggest conspiracy theory”.

Few of the protesters wore masks or met the five-foot (1.5-meter) social distancing requirement, an AFP reporter reported, although police called them by megaphone to do so.

Berlin police revealed on Twitter that they had launched legal action against the organizers for “non-compliance with hygiene rules”.

A handful of people staged a counter-demonstration. Calling themselves “grandmothers against the extreme right”, they launched insults against “Nazi” demonstrators.

The “Freedom Day” slogan for the protest echoes the title of a 1935 documentary by Nazi-era film producer Leni Riefenstahl about a party conference by Hitler’s German National Socialist Workers Party.

Several politicians have spoken out against the protest as Germany seeks to minimize transmission of COVID-19, with the virus killing just over 9,000 on Saturday – a toll far lower than its neighbors.

Saskia Esken of the Social Democrats, a junior coalition partner in Angela Merkel’s government, called the protesters “Covidiots”.

In a tweet, Esken insulted, “No distancing, no mask. They not only endanger our health but also our success against the pandemic as well as economic recovery, education and society. Irresponsible! “.

Jan Redmann, regional leader of Merkel’s Christian Democrats in eastern Brandenburg state, also targeted the marchers.

“Still a thousand new infections a day and in Berlin there are protests against anti-virus measures? We can no longer afford this dangerous nonsense, ”complained Redmann.

Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned about the rise in infections in recent weeks.

Saturday saw 955 new infections – a level the country had not seen since May 9, according to the Robert Koch Institute of Health.

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