Far-right extremists try to enter German parliament

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BERLIN – Far-right extremists attempted to storm Germany’s parliament building on Saturday after a protest against the country’s pandemic restrictions, but were intercepted by police and forcibly removed. The incident came after a day-long protest by tens of thousands of people opposing the wearing of masks and other government measures designed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Police ordered protesters to disband halfway through their march around Berlin after participants refused to obey social distancing rules, but a rally near the capital’s iconic Brandenburg Gate took place as planned.

Images of the incident showed hundreds of people, some waving the German Reich flag of 1871-1918 and other far-right banners, running towards the Reichstag building and up the stairs.

Police confirmed on Twitter that several people had crossed a cordon in front of Parliament and “entered the stairs of the Reichstag building, but not the building itself”.

“Stones and bottles were thrown at our colleagues,” police said. “You had to use force to push them back. ”

Germany’s top security official condemned the incident.

“The Reichstag building is the workplace of our Parliament and therefore the symbolic center of our liberal democracy,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said in a statement.

“It is unbearable that vandals and extremists abuse it,” he said, calling on the authorities to show “zero tolerance”.

Previously, thousands of far-right extremists threw bottles and stones at the police outside the Russian Embassy. Police arrested around 300 people throughout the day.

The Berlin regional government had tried to ban the protests, warning extremists could use them as a platform and citing anti-mask rallies earlier this month where rules intended to prevent the virus from spreading further n were not respected.

Protest organizers successfully appealed the decision on Friday, despite a court ordering them to ensure social distancing. Failure to comply with this measure prompted the Berlin police to dissolve the march while it was still underway.

During the march, which authorities said attracted around 38,000 people, participants expressed their opposition to a wide range of issues, including vaccinations, face masks and the German government in general. Some wore T-shirts promoting the “QAnon” conspiracy theory while others displayed white nationalist slogans and neo-Nazi badges, although most participants denied having any far-right views.

Uwe Bachmann, 57, said he came from southwestern Germany to protest for freedom of expression and his right not to wear a mask.

“I respect those who are afraid of the virus,” said Bachmann, who wore a costume and wig that attempted to evoke the stereotypical attire of Native Americans. He suggested, without specifying, that “something else” was behind the pandemic.

Another protester said he wanted the abolition of Germany’s current political system and a return to the 1871 constitution on the grounds that the country’s post-war political system was illegal. Providing only his first name, Karl-Heinz, he had traveled with his sister from their home near the Dutch border to attend the protest and believed that the coronavirus cases reported in Germany were now ‘false positives’.

Germany has seen an upsurge in new cases in recent weeks. The country’s disease control agency reported on Saturday that Germany had nearly 1,500 new infections in the past day.

Germany has been praised for the way it has handled the pandemic, and the country’s death toll, which stands at some 9,300, represents less than a quarter of the number of people who have died from COVID-19 in Britain. Opinion polls show overwhelming support for preventive measures imposed by the authorities, such as the requirement to wear masks on public transport, in shops and some public buildings such as libraries and schools.

Along the route, there were several smaller counter-demonstrations where participants shouted slogans against the far-right presence at the anti-mask rally.

“I think there is a line and if someone takes to the streets with neo-Nazis, then they crossed it,” said Verena, a counter-protester from Berlin who refused to provide her name. of family.

Meanwhile, a few hundred people gathered in eastern Paris on Saturday to protest against new mask rules and other restrictions caused by the rise in viral infections in France. The police watched closely but did not intervene.

The protesters had no central organizer but included people in yellow vests who once protested against economic injustice, others promoting conspiracy theories and those who called themselves “anti-mask”.

France has not experienced an anti-mask movement like some other countries. Masks are now mandatory everywhere in the public in Paris as authorities warn infections rise exponentially as schools are set to resume classes.

France recorded more than 7,000 new viral infections in a single day on Friday, compared to several hundred a day in May and June, in part thanks to increased testing. It has the third highest death toll from coronavirus in Europe after Britain and Italy, with more than 30,600 dead.

In London, hundreds of people gathered in Trafalgar Square for a “Unite for Freedom” protest against government lockdown restrictions and the wearing of face masks. The Metropolitan Police warned protesters that anyone attending a rally of more than 30 risked committing a criminal offense.

Angela Charlton in Paris and Silvia Hui in London contributed to this report.

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