Coronavirus: Berlin COVID-19 protesters say they are defending freedom, flout coronavirus rules

Thousands of people took to the streets of Berlin on Saturday to protest coronavirus restrictions, with many saying they were there to defend democratic freedoms.

Protester Axel Hahn said he was taking a stand for open debate. He said he was taking the virus seriously, but that any real danger had now passed.

That stands in contrast to what German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, when she told the country the situation was still serious and warned that it would likely worsen with the onset of winter.

One placard carried at the protest depicted Merkel holding a syringe and threatening to use violence to force people to be vaccinated. Anti-vaccination activists were joined at the protest by far-right groups, including the “Reichsbuerger” network that claims allegiance to the pre-war German Reich and says the modern-day Federal Republic of Germany is illegitimate.

But the crowd also included devotees of the Hindu god Krishna and protesters like Manuela Goehricke, who said she wanted to protest only for “peace, freedom and love.”

At the Brandenburg Gate, a group of anti-fascist counter-demonstrators gathered in the afternoon, with police forming a barrier between them and the main demonstration.

Police estimated between 35,000 and 38,000 protesters gathered throughout the day, Berlin interior senator Andreas Geisel said. Some 3,000 officers were deployed to control the crowds. Police disbanded the protest a few hours after it began after marchers failed to keep their distance and wear masks as instructed.

The protest came as infections rise across Europe and as public frustration at measures to contain the virus grows in some quarters. Similar events took place in Paris, London and elsewhere on Saturday.

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