Police, anti-lockdown demonstrators clash in Germany

Police used pepper spray to try to disperse a crowd of more than 20,000 in the central city of Kassel

By Christian Ebner

KASSEL, Germany — More than 20,000 people rallied against Germany's coronavirus restrictions in the central city of Kassel on Saturday, and clashes broke out between police and participants.

Protesters ignored the city's court-approved limit of 6,000 participants, with almost all of them also refusing to wear a face mask.

A court had only allowed a rally at a location outside the city centre, a ruling which the protesters also flouted.

The crowd had gathered in the city centre for an unauthorized rally, said police, who said the violence broke out after protesters ignored instructions from officers and broke through police barriers.

Officers used pepper spray and batons against the participants.

Scuffles with counter-demonstrators at the site were also reported, and journalists and police were accosted by protesters.

Police said several people were taken into custody, but did not give an exact number.

Many who turned out in Kassel were supporters of the so-called Querdenken (Lateral Thinking) movement - made up of Covid-19 deniers, right-wing activists and anti-vaccination campaigners.

Meanwhile, in Berlin, the city had been bracing for a large turnout of far-right protesters. Police disbanded the rally in the afternoon, saying participants had violated mask and social-distancing rules.

"There's very little going on here," said a police spokesperson.

Police had expected a crowd in the low thousands to come out near the Brandenburg Gate, urged on by various far-right groups, the turnout was much lower, only in the hundreds.

According to a dpa reporter, some protesters threw bottles at left-wing counterdemonstrators.

In total, there were about 650 demonstrators at various locations, authorities estimated. Of them, about half were left-wing protesters.

A planned demonstration by critics of the government's coronavirus restrictions at Alexanderplatz, a major transport hub and shopping area in central Berlin, was cancelled, as were two motorcades.

On the fringes of the Alexanderplatz demonstration, two men are accused of attacking a homeless man. They are both under investigation for causing dangerous bodily harm, according to police.

Demonstrations last year in the German capital saw tens of thousands of Germans taking to the streets to protest lockdown measures, leading to often violent confrontations with police and hundreds of people taken into custody.

©2021 dpa GmbH. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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