'One big lie:' 38000 people rally in Berlin against COVID-19 rules

BERLIN — Some 38,000 people participated in a rally against coronavirus restrictions in Berlin on Saturday despite police efforts to disperse the crowds due to the risk of COVID-19 contagion.

Police said that some 300 people were arrested throughout the day, with around two-thirds of those detained outside the Russian embassy, where thousands of far-right protesters and members of the extremist Reich Citizens’ Movement violently clashed with police.

Elsewhere, a group of protesters broke into a restricted area near the Reichstag building and had to be removed by police, according to a dpa reporter at the scene. Police used pepper spray on the intruders, resulting in clashes between the sides.

Blockades and sit-ins also took place in central Berlin, with a group of about 40 people gathering on Berlin’s Schiffbauerdamm street, protesters erecting a blockade on the Universitaetsstrasse avenue, and a container set on fire on Friedrichstrasse, a busy shopping street.

About 3,000 police officers were deployed across the city to maintain order.

Video footage showed protesters being carried and dragged away by police.

The crowds included people from far-right groups, conspiracy theorists who do not believe exists, and anti-vaccination campaigners.

“Coronavirus is one big lie,” a man in his 50s told the N24 news channel.

Symbols of right-wing extremism were on display at the capital’s landmark Brandenburg Gate and the surrounding area.

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.

Lead organizer Michael Ballweg addressed the crowd at Berlin’s Victory Column, demanding that all coronavirus restrictions be lifted with immediate effect and that the government of Chancellor resign.

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.

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