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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 4 March 2021

Coronavirus: Police break up German protests against restrictions

Thousands had gathered in Berlin on Saturday after a court ruled they could protest

People attend a rally in Berlinagainst the German government's coronavirus restrictions, on August 29, 2020. Reuters
People attend a rally in Berlinagainst the German government's coronavirus restrictions, on August 29, 2020. Reuters

Police have disbanded protests over coronavirus restrictions in Berlin after thousands of people failed to wear masks.

Up to 18,000 people had gathered on Saturday to demonstrate after a regional court in Germany overturned a decision to ban the protest.

It had initially been banned after demonstrators failed to wear masks.

But just two hours into the rally police were forced to step in due to protesters flouting coronavirus restrictions by not adhering to social distancing and failing to wear masks.

"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."

A police spokesman said the protesters were dispersing peacefully, however, there were reports of some people blocking roads and bottles being thrown.

Police had already deployed more than 3,000 officers over fear of violence as activists opposed to the virus measures urged social media followers across Europe to arm themselves and gather in Berlin.

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Activists, angered by Berlin's decision to ban protests after demonstrators at a recent rally failed to wear masks or remain a safe distance apart, had flooded the city with thousands of applications for additional protest rallies this weekend.

"The gatherings planned by several initiatives for August 29 against the corona policy of the federal and state governments can take place," the court ruled.

Responding to the ruling, Berlin's interior minister, Andreas Geisel, said the court had given protesters a second chance to show they can comply with social distancing measures.

"I appeal to everyone to gather in Berlin without violence," he said.

Querdenken 711, one of the movements behind the protests, had urged demonstrators in a YouTube video to "be peaceful and exercise no violence toward the police".

Until now Germany has managed the coronavirus crisis better than many of its European counterparts, with rigorous testing helping to hold down infections and deaths.

But new daily infections have accelerated in recent weeks.

On Friday, Chancellor Angela Merkel urged citizens to keep up their guard against the virus.

"This is a serious matter, as serious as it's ever been, and you need to carry on taking it seriously," she said.

Protesters had gathered at the Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin with signs reading "Stop the corona lies" and "Merkel must go".

Anti-mask protesters had also gathered in Zurich on Saturday.

In London, more than a 1,000 protesters gathered at Trafalgar Square, many holding home-made banners.

One called for an "End to medical tyranny"; another read "No to mandatory vaccines" while one man waved a placard declaring "Masks are muzzles".

In Paris, more than 300 people protested peacefully against the government's decision to make masks obligatory in all public places as cases rise in the French capital.

Protesters, some waving placards stating "Stop the lies", were quickly surrounded by police who handed out fines to those not wearing masks.

Updated: August 29, 2020 08:54 PM

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