'One big lie’: Thousands protest in Berlin against Covid-19 restrictions
By Monika Wendel
Berlin - Blockades and sit-ins took place in central Berlin on Saturday as tens of thousands of people rallied against coronavirus restrictions despite police efforts to break up the protest because of health and safety violations.
The mostly peaceful protest included people from far-right groups, conspiracy theorists who do not believe Covid-19 exists, and anti-vaccination campaigners.
"Coronavirus is one big lie," a man in his 50s told the N24 news channel.
Police said there were several disruptions to traffic including a group of about 40 people that gathered on Berlin's Schiffbauerdamm street, and a blockade on the Universitaetsstrasse avenue, also in central Berlin.
They said at least two people had been arrested after throwing bottles at police officers, and a container had been set on fire on Friedrichstrasse, a busy shopping boulevard.
Video footage showed protesters being carried and dragged away by police.
Several protesters who broke into a restricted area near the Reichstag building had to be removed by police.
Police spokesman Thilo Cablitz said that tens of thousands of people gathered at Berlin's Victory Column and the adjacent Strasse des 17 Juni avenue, where a speech was due to be held later on Saturday.
"We are currently asking the organizer of the demonstration whether he wants to begin his meeting under these circumstances and advise against a further influx (of protesters)," police said on Twitter.
About 3,000 police officers were deployed across the city to maintain order.
Participants held posters that read "Stop the coronavirus madness" and "End the coronavirus dictatorship" and carried banners calling for the government to resign and demanding an end to virus restrictions.
Symbols of right-wing extremism were on display at the capital's landmark Brandenburg Gate.
Earlier in the day, Berlin police said the rally would be dissolved because participants did not adhere to rules put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus. They said participants were not maintaining a safe distance and many were not wearing face masks.
The rally had been permitted following a court ruling. The Higher Administrative Court of Berlin and its surrounding state of Brandenburg confirmed in the second instance early Saturday that a police ban previously issued was not valid.
Authorities had announced the ban earlier this week after an event by the same organizers at the start of the month was broken up because the participants - numbering tens of thousands - were not wearing masks or keeping the required distance from one another.
A spokesperson for the administrative court in the capital said the demonstration could go ahead as long as they adhered to conditions, such as maintaining social distancing.
Berlin state Interior Minister Andreas Geisel had said ahead of the protest that the court had given demonstrators another chance to show that they could comply with the coronavirus safety rules.
The German government's disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), reported 1 479 new cases of coronavirus infection on Saturday, saying that number has stabilized over the past few days.
The country has so far seen 240 986 infections since the start of the pandemic, with 9 289 deaths related to the coronavirus.