Supporters of the Spanish anti-migrant Vox party protested against the country’s lockdown at the weekend, the latest European far-right group to seize on pandemic restrictions to criticise the ruling government.
Several thousand people joined a protest on Saturday in the Spanish capital, Madrid, travelling in a cavalcade of cars and motorbikes to evade the ban on social gatherings under the nation’s two-month state of emergency. Protests were held in other cities.
The protest came as the government has slowly started easing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in an effort to boost the economy. Prime Minster Pedro Sanchez on Saturday announced the restart of tourism from and the resumption of professional football on June 8.
The German government raised concerns about the efforts of the far-right to hijack anti-lockdown protests, even as German chancellor Angela Merkel enjoys high levels of support for her handling of the crisis.
In Spain, the Vox party – the third largest party in parliament - has accused Mr Pedro of lying about the impact of the health crisis and of violating the rights of Spaniards by ordering them to stay at home and close their business.
The European nation has suffered one of the highest tolls from the virus with more than 28,000 deaths, behind only the US, UK and Italy.
“We will never forget what they have done,” Vox leader Santiago Abascal said from an open-top bus leading the route in Madrid. “Do not doubt that we will make them face justice. They know it and fear our freedom. That is why they try to intimidate us.”
Mr Abascal and another senior party member who appeared on stage together both fell ill with the virus in March just before the government announced a lockdown. The party apologised for going ahead with the meeting.
The government said the measures were essential to prevent the country’s health services from being overwhelmed and to save thousands of lives.
The left-wing coalition government declared a state of emergency on March 14 but is now under pressure to lift some restrictions to limit the economic impact on the country.
On Monday, Madrid and Barcelona, the two hardest hit areas, will be able to join the rest of the country in reopening half of outdoor seating at bars and restaurants and gathering in groups of fewer than 10 people.