German police have fired water cannons at demonstrators protesting coronavirus restrictions in Berlin’s government district, after crowds ignored calls to wear masks and keep their distance from one another in line with pandemic regulations.

As the cannons soaked protesters outside the Brandenburg Gate, police in riot gear moved through the crowd carrying away some participants. Some protesters threw fireworks and flares in response as police helicopters hovered overhead.

The protests came as German MPs debated a bill providing legal underpinning for the Government to issue social distancing rules, require masks in public and close stores and other venues to slow the spread of the virus.

While such measures are supported by most people in Germany, a vocal minority has staged regular rallies around the country arguing that the restrictions are unconstitutional.

The measures are expected to pass both the lower and then upper house of Parliament and be quickly signed by Germany’s president .

Health Minister, Jens Spahn, defended the measures, telling MPs that authorities “struggle every day in trying to strike the balance” between restrictions and safeguarding democratic freedoms.

But he insisted that Germany had found the right path, noting that it has fared much better than many of its European neighbours in combatting coronavirus.

“Where would you rather be than in Germany,” he told the far-right Alternative for Germany party, who criticised the lockdown measures.

Overall, the country has seen 833,000 coronavirus cases and more than 13,000 virus-confirmed deaths in the pandemic, a death toll one-fourth that of Britain’s.

Mr Spahn also praised the efforts of German pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which together with Pfizer is leading the race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, and denied that there would be compulsory inoculation.

German authorities said Tuesday that they had banned a series of protests directly outside the Parliament building due to security concerns, and fencing was put up around the areas.

‘We want our lives back’

Germans protesting against coronavirus restrictions clash with German police outside historic …Germans protesting against coronavirus restrictions clash with German police outside historic …
Police use water cannons on protesters near the Brandenburg Gate before marching on the crowd.(AP: Michael Sohn)

Outside the metal cordons, protesters gathered outside the Brandenburg Gate, and on streets and bridges.

“We want our lives back,” read one sign carried by protesters.

“Put banks under surveillance, not citizens,” another said.

One demonstrator held a flag with a picture of outgoing US President and an image invoking the right-wing conspiracy theory QAnon while another had a placard showing top German virologist Christian Drosten in prison garb with the word “guilty.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reacted sharply to the accusation from some protesters that the measures were akin to the 1933 Enabling Act, which allowed the Nazis to enact laws without parliamentary approval.

“Everyone, naturally, has the right to criticise the measures, our democracy thrives through the exchange of different opinions,” he wrote on Twitter.

A demonstration earlier this month in the eastern city of Leipzig ended in chaos when thousands of protesters defied police orders to wear masks and, later, to disperse.

Some participants then attacked police officers and journalists.

Local authorities were criticised for acting too slowly and not forcefully enough to break up the crowd in Leipzig, allowing the situation to get out of control.

Berlin police said they had given out multiple citations already on Wednesday for violating mask-wearing regulations, but that their appeals for people to wear protective gear and to keep their distance from one another were largely being ignored.

Police said the order had now been given to detain people not following the regulations.

“If that does not help, the only course that remains is to disperse the gathering,” police said on Twitter.

AP

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