Michigan protesters launch 'Operation Haircut' over lockdown

Lansing (United States) (AFP) - After mass rallies featuring armed protesters, those angry over the restrictive anti-virus lockdown in the US state of Michigan launched "Operation Haircut" Wednesday, with barbers using their scissors and clippers outside the state capitol.

Several hundred demonstrators -- some not wearing face masks or practicing social distancing -- lined up in Lansing under sunny skies for a free trim from hairstylists.

Chairs were disinfected after each haircut.

It was the fourth major protest against Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer's strict stay-at-home orders in a little more than a month.

In late April, armed protesters entered the capitol building in Lansing, demanding an easing of the lockdown put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Michigan is one of the hardest hit US states, with more than 5,000 deaths linked to the COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

It has become a flashpoint in the national conversation about when and how to reopen businesses across the country, to stem the economic pain sparked by the global health crisis.

The protest was organized by local conservative groups in support of Karl Manke, a barber who lost his license after opening his salon in early May, defying the lockdown rules.

Massages were also on offer at Wednesday's event -- in exchange for a token payment.

Some demonstrators waved American flags and signs slamming Whitmer, who has extended lockdown measures until May 28.

"Whitmer is killing small businesses," read one sign.

The governor, who was in the central part of the state to evaluate the damage from devastating floods caused when two dams were breached, said she understood residents' frustrations.

"Every one of us have made sacrifices at some point. Many are mourning the loss of loved ones, the loss of a job, of a business that might not open or survive this," she said.

But she pleaded with protesters to demonstrate "in a way that does not expose themselves or others to a prolonged public health crisis."

"If people protest, I ask that they wear masks and observe the six feet apart, and if they don't, we will have to take some action," Whitmer warned.

Police issued several tickets to the barbers, witnesses said.