Berlin protests against restrictions continue


Protests against the German government’s coronavirus policies continued on Sunday, after demonstrations ended in clashes with the police the day before.

Politicians expressed shock after far-right protesters broke through fences and reached the stairs to Berlin’s Reichstag on Saturday. The events are an “intolerable attack on the heart of our democracy,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

On Sunday, about 2,000 people attended an unapproved gathering around the capital’s Siegessaeule monument and some resisted orders to leave, according to a police spokesman. An approved demonstration on the Unter den Linden boulevard yielded only a “handful” of people, and fewer than 1,000 turned out for another event, according to the police.

Police clashed with far-right protesters Saturday and made about 200 arrests after tens of thousands of people rallied mostly peacefully against restrictions to contain the pandemic.

An estimated 38,000 people took part in at least two rallies near key federal government buildings on Saturday, according to broadcaster ARD. Later, violence erupted between law enforcement and about 3,000 far-right activists, the DPA newswire reported. Police also forcibly removed protesters from a restricted zone at the Reichstag parliament building.

Another 100 people were arrested earlier Saturday at a march, where some demonstrators threw bottles at police, according to DPA. Demonstrators held posters that read “Stop the coronavirus madness” and “End the coronavirus dictatorship,” and a protest leader called for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to resign.

Police in Berlin ordered demonstrators to break up the march near the Brandenburg Gate when many participants refused to wear masks or respect social-distancing rules, but the bigger rally went ahead nearby after a local court declined to ban it.

Andreas Geisel, the capital’s top local law-enforcement official, said protesters included “far-right extremists,” anti-vaccine activists and so-called Reich Citizens, a disparate group that denies the legitimacy of modern Germany’s democracy.

“Their only common denominator is the sense of uncertainty related to the coronavirus debate,” Geisel said on ARD.

The Berlin rally was organized by a group called Querdenken 711, which says the virus restrictions infringe on German constitutional freedoms. The protests attracted a mix of libertarians, virus deniers, right-wing extremists, and anti-vaccine campaigners.

Merkel warned on Friday that the coronavirus crisis will get worse before it gets better as the summer draws to a close and people are forced indoors. She’s also called on Germans to refrain from non-essential travel to areas with severe coronavirus outbreaks, and regional authorities agreed to impose a 50-euro ($59) fine for not wearing masks when necessary.