German police clash with Covid protesters

·3 min read

German police clashed with protesters at a mass demonstration against coronavirus restrictions in the city of Kassel on Saturday, using water cannon, batons and pepper spray to disperse crowds.

The protest attracted between 15,000 and 20,000 demonstrators, a Kassel police spokesman told AFP, making it one of the largest such rallies so far this year.

"This is not what a peaceful protest looks like," North Hesse police tweeted, adding that there had been "repeated attacks" by protesters against emergency service workers.

An AFP reporter saw scuffles erupt when a group of corona sceptics tried to break through a police cordon to join up with other protesters, resulting in shoving and the use pepper spray.

Elsewhere in the city, police used batons and fired water cannon at people trying to break through barriers and throwing bottles.

There were also tussles with counter-demonstrators as the anti-Covid protesters strayed from the authorised protest sites and spread throughout the city.

The protest was called by the "Querdenker" or Lateral Thinkers movement, an umbrella group that has organised Germany's main "anti-corona" demonstrations since the start of the pandemic.

The movement has drawn in people from the far-left, conspiracy theory believers, anti-vaxxers and right-wing extremists.

Some of them do not believe the pandemic is real, while others claim the curbs imposed to rein in the virus infringe on their civil rights.

"We came to Kassel today because the measures imposed here in Germany no longer serve the people," said 69-year-old demonstrator Helmut.

Saturday's protest comes as Germany is battling a sharp rise in infection rates despite months of shutdowns, and experts have warned that the country's vaccination drive is too slow to ward off a third coronavirus wave.

- Amsterdam, Vienna -

At the Friedrichsplatz square in Kassel, people were packed closely together without wearing masks, the AFP reporter saw.

Some of them held up signs that read "End the lockdown" and "Corona rebels", others carried heart-shaped balloons.

Police later announced through loudspeakers they were ending the rally at the square early over Covid safety violations.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany's 16 federal states are meeting on Monday to discuss the next steps in the pandemic fight, with Merkel warning there could be no further easing of restrictions.

Several other European cities also saw protests against coronavirus measures on Saturday.

In the Netherlands, police used water cannon to break up a group of around 500 protesters at Amsterdam's Museum Square after they ignored orders to disperse in an illegal demonstration, one of many at the site in recent weeks.

The protesters then moved to a nearby canal, where they were blocked off by police and later taken away by bus to a different location, according to Amsterdam local news channel AT5.

In Switzerland, an estimated 3,000-5,000 people gathered in the small town of Liestal to demand an end to anti-Covid measures that have shut restaurants and other venues for months.

Around a thousand protesters rallied in Vienna before being dispersed, including members of the far-right and hooligans, according to Austrian media. Police made several arrests.

In the Bulgarian capital Sofia, some 500 people demonstrated, many of them not wearing masks.

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