Thousands of people gathered in Berlin on Sunday to protest against the German government’s anti-coronavirus measures despite the ban on gatherings, resulting in clashes with police and the arrest of some 600 protesters.
Local authorities had banned several different protests over the weekend, including one from the Stuttgart-based Querdenker movement, but protesters in Berlin defied the ban.
The Berlin Police Department has deployed more than 2,000 officers in an attempt to disperse the protests, but said officers seeking to redirect protesters or disband larger groups have been “harassed and attacked”.
“They tried to break the police cordon and remove our colleagues,” Berlin police said, adding that the police had to use irritants and batons.
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As the crowd marched from Berlin’s Charlottenburg district through Tiergarten Park towards the Brandenburg Gate, police warned over loudspeakers that they would use water cannons if the protesters did not disperse. As of Sunday evening, police arrested around 600 people, according to German media, and protesters were still marching in the city.
Germany relaxed many of its coronavirus restrictions in May, including reopening restaurants and bars. Yet many activities, such as eating indoors at restaurants or staying in a hotel, require proof that an individual is either fully vaccinated, has recovered from the virus, or can prove a recent negative coronavirus test.
Although the number of new coronavirus cases in Germany remains low compared to neighboring countries, the delta variant has triggered an increase in new infections in recent weeks. Germany reported 2,097 new cases on Sunday, an increase of more than 500 from the previous Sunday.
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The Querdenker movement, Germany’s most visible anti-lockdown movement, has drawn thousands to its protests in Berlin, bringing together a disparate mix on the right and left, including those who oppose vaccinations, deniers coronavirus, conspiracy theorists and right-wing extremists.
Earlier this year, Germany’s domestic intelligence service warned the movement was becoming more radical and placed some of its adherents under surveillance.
Wolfgang Schäuble, speaker of the German parliament, sharply criticized the Querdenker movement on Sunday, encouraging people not to be fooled by “cheap slogans”.
“If virtually every expert in the world is saying that the coronavirus is dangerous and that vaccination helps, then who really has the right to say, ‘In fact, I’m smarter than that? “”, He told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. “For me, that’s an almost unbearable level of arrogance. “
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The protests follow other protests against coronavirus measures in Europe.
More than 200,000 people gathered in France on Saturday to protest against vaccination requirements for the third weekend in a row, sometimes clashing with police. Some 80,000 others demonstrated in towns across Italy last weekend.