German police use water cannons to protest in Berlin against COVID-19 restrictions

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BERLIN – German police used water cannons and pepper spray on Wednesday to disperse people protesting coronavirus restrictions in Berlin’s government quarter, after crowds ignored calls to wear masks and stand by distance from each other in accordance with pandemic regulations. As water sprayed by the cannons rained down on protesters outside the Brandenburg Gate, police in riot gear moved through the crowd, carrying a few participants away. Some protesters threw fireworks, flares and other objects in response as police helicopters hovered above their heads.

Officers avoided firing the cannons directly at the protesters as there were children in the crowd and they worked slowly and methodically to disperse the crowd, Berlin police spokesman Thilo Cabiltz said. Some protesters blew open umbrellas and held on until they were finally pushed back.

More than 100 people have been arrested, Cabiltz said, and many others held temporarily. Nine police officers were injured. The crowd of protesters thinned considerably in the late afternoon as many protesters returned to the city’s main train station, chanting and whistling.

A protester held a sign saying “Infection Protection Act

Dictatorship. “Another waved a reading” Truth, freedom, do not touch our constitution. ”

The protests came as German lawmakers debated a bill that would provide a legal basis for the government to issue social distancing rules, demand face masks in public, and shut down shops and other places to slow the spread of the virus.

The bill was easily passed by the lower and upper houses of the German parliament and quickly passed to the country’s president, who signed it later on Wednesday.

While virus prevention measures are supported by most people in Germany, a vocal minority has held regular rallies across the country, arguing that the restrictions are unconstitutional.

Health Minister Jens Spahn defended the measures in parliament ahead of the vote, telling lawmakers authorities “struggle every day to try to find a balance” between restrictions and safeguarding democratic freedoms.

But he insisted Germany had found the right path, noting that it had performed much better during the pandemic than many of its European neighbors.

“Where do you prefer to be than in Germany? He asked lawmakers from the far-right Alternative for Germany party who criticized the lockdown measures.

Overall, the country has reported around 833,000 cases of the coronavirus and more than 13,000 virus-related deaths in the pandemic, a toll of a quarter that of Britain.

Spahn also praised the efforts of German pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which, along with Pfizer, is leading the race to develop a vaccine against COVID-19. The health minister has denied that vaccinations are mandatory, a repeated claim by those protesting against government measures.

German authorities took the rare step on Tuesday of banning a series of protests directly outside the parliament building over security concerns. Fences were put up around a large area that included the Bundestag, nearby parliamentary offices, the Federal Chancellery and the Presidential Residence and Offices.

Outside the metal cords, protesters gathered early Wednesday near the Brandenburg Gate, on streets and bridges. The protesters came from all walks of life, ranging from the far left to the far right, and included families and students.

“We want our lives to come back,” read a sign carried by protesters. Another said: “Put the banks under surveillance, not the citizens”. A protester held a flag with a photo of incumbent US President Donald Trump and an image invoking the right-wing “QAnon” conspiracy theory. Another had a sign showing top German virologist Christian Drosten in prison gear with the word “guilty” on it.

Berlin police said they made several citations during Wednesday’s protest for violating regulations on wearing masks, but their calls for people to wear protective gear and keep their distance from each other have been largely ignored. The police department warned that officers had been ordered to detain people who violated the regulations.

“If that doesn’t help, the only solution left is to disperse the rally,” the department said on Twitter.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reacted strongly to accusations by some protesters that these measures amounted to the “enabling law” of 1933, which allowed the Nazis to pass laws without approval. parliamentary.

“Everyone, of course, has the right to criticize the measures, our democracy thrives on the exchange of different opinions,” he wrote on Twitter. “But anyone who relativizes or trivializes the Holocaust has learned nothing from our history. ”

A protest earlier this month in the eastern city of Leipzig ended in chaos when thousands of protesters challenged police orders to wear masks and, later, disperse. Some participants attacked police and journalists.

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Frank Jordans contributed to this report

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