BERLIN (Reuters) – Thousands of people marched in Berlin on Saturday to protest measures imposed in Germany to stem the coronavirus pandemic, claiming to have violated people’s rights and freedoms.
Protesters march during a protest against government restrictions in the framework of the coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19), in Berlin, Germany, 1 August 2020. REUTERS / Fabrizio Bensch
The meeting, estimated by the police at 17,000, included libertarians, constitutional loyalists and anti-vaccination activists. There was also a small far-right presence with some protesters carrying the black, white and red imperial flag of Germany.
The protesters danced and sang “We are free people!” On the notes of the rock group “We Will Rock You” by Queen. Others marched with signs that said “We are making noise because you are stealing our freedom!” And “Think! Don’t wear a mask!”.
“Our request is to return to democracy,” said one protester who refused to give his name. “The mask that makes us slaves has to go.”
The protests followed a recall call from Michael Ballweg, an entrepreneur and political stranger who organized similar demonstrations in Stuttgart and is running to become mayor of the southwestern city.
The police filed a complaint against the organizer for failing to ensure that the protesters wore masks and kept their distance. Mass politicians criticized the protesters, with Social Democratic co-leader Saskia Esken calling them “covidiot”.
“Not only do they endanger our health, they endanger our successes against the pandemic,” tweeted Esken, whose party is the partner of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition.
After Germany’s initial success in curbing the pandemic, infections are on the rise again. More than 200,000 people have captured COVID-19 and nearly 1,000 have died.
Most people in Germany have respected measures that include wearing masks in stores, while the government has just imposed mandatory tests for vacationers returning from high-risk areas.
But a vocal minority is defying restrictions.
“Only a few scientists around the world who follow government leadership are listened to,” protester Peter Konz said. Those who have different opinions “are silenced, censored or discredited as defenders of conspiracy theories”.
Reuters TV reporting, Douglas Busvine writing; Editing by Giles Elgood