Protesters Across Europe Clash With Police Over Lockdowns

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21 Mar 2021, 1:49 am

NPR

Quote:
Anger at restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic swept into the streets of Europe on Saturday.

German police used water cannons, pepper spray and clubs on protesters rallying over the coronavirus lockdown in the town of Kassel in central Germany where demonstrators numbered some 20,000. Protests against government measures to rein in the pandemic were also reported in Austria, Britain, Finland, Romania and Switzerland.

Germany faces a surge of COVID-19 infections as a more contagious variant of the virus has spread. Experts say it highlights the need to accelerate vaccinations.

But a botched vaccine rollout appears to have deepened distrust against the German government. The suspension of AstraZeneca vaccine was the latest hurdle in Germany's efforts to vaccinate its population of 83 million.

Britain's speedy vaccine rollout — it was the first in the world to administer a fully tested vaccine — has been a surprise success for the government of Boris Johnson, who has received heavy criticism for his response to the virus.

But it didn't stop thousands of people attending anti-lockdown demonstrations in London on Saturday. Protesters held placards that read, "Fear Westmonster, not the virus, and "Stop destroying Our kids' lives" as they marched through central London — along Oxford Street, the Embankment and Parliament Square before heading up to Whitehall.

In Hyde Park, police were forced back into their vans as demonstrators lobbed bottles and cans at them. The BBC reported that few protesters appeared to be wearing masks. London Metropolitan Police said 36 people had been arrested during the rallies, most of them involving violations of COVID-19 regulations.

The protests came the same day as 60 members of parliament urged the home secretary to ease restrictions on demonstrations. Due to coronavirus restrictions, it's currently unlawful for groups to gather for the purpose of protest. But the measures came under direct assault this week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly planning to introduce a controversial new law banning protests that are noisy or cause "serious annoyance," and would carry a maximum jail term of 10 years.


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