German police unleashed water cannon on Wednesday in an effort to scatter thousands of protesters angry over plans to empower Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to enforce restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Protesters near Berlin’s landmark Brandenburg Gate threw bottles at police and set off smoke bombs, witnesses reported. Riot police detained some protesters while firing volleys of water and urging crowds by loudspeaker to disperse.
Demonstrators were fuming about legislation due to be passed by parliament that could allow the federal government to impose curbs on social contact, rules on mask-wearing, drinking alcohol in public, shutting shops and stopping sports events.
Although most Germans accept the latest “lockdown light” to tackle a second wave of the coronavirus, critics say the law gives the national government too much power and endangers citizens’ civil rights without the approval of parliament.
Until now, only a few measures have been mandatory and most have been only enforceable at a state or local level. In addition, several restrictions have been overturned by courts.
Protesters were neither keeping the required social distance nor wearing face masks. Some held banners with slogans such as “For Enlightenment. Peace and Freedom” and “Stop the corona pandemic lie”. Many people were waving the German flag.
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has even compared the move to enhance the powers of Merkel’s government with the 1933 Enabling Act that paved the way to Hitler’s Nazi dictatorship.
German media reported that far-right radicals were among the protesters who had earlier gathered peacefully, banging saucepans and blowing whistles.
Police were keen to avoid a repeat of an incident in August when, during mass marches against coronavirus curbs, protesters stormed the steps of the Reichstag parliament building, some of them waving the far-right Reichsflagge flag.
The images went around the world and were condemned by leading German politicians.
Germany, Europe’s largest economy, was widely praised for keeping infection and death rates below those of many of its neighbours in the first phase of the crisis. But is now in the throes of a second wave, like much of the rest of Europe.