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German police break up Berlin protest against pandemic restrictions

Berlin, Nov 18 (efe-epa).- German police on Wednesday broke up a violent demonstration against coronavirus measures after protesters tried to access a restricted area next to the parliament.

The violence started at noon and lasted for about three hours, while a plenary session was held in the Bundestag (lower house) to approve a reform of the Protection against Infection Act, to provide a legal underpinning for the current restrictions due to the pandemic.

Among the demonstrators – very few of whom wore masks or observed social distancing – were right-wing extremists, who clashed with police by throwing bottles and flares.

The police, with about 2,000 officers, ended the demonstration after some of the protesters tried to breach a restricted area near the parliament building.

After demands for protesters to disperse were ignored, police used water cannon and tear gas. More than a hundred people were arrested.

“Criticism should and must always be possible in a democracy,” government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer said ahead of the rally. “The limit of the permissible exercise of basic rights is reached if you abuse them.”

The tensions outside the parliament were reflected inside the building, where delegates for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) said the government’s proposed reforms would amount to a curb of people’s fundamental rights.

The chairman of the AfD parliamentary group, Alexander Gauland, criticized the reform of the Infection Protection Act, calling it “the greatest restriction of fundamental rights in the history of the Federal Republic”.

The comparison to the Nazi party’s seizure of power by enacting emergency laws drew sharp rebukes from other parties and the government.

“It creates a limited and temporary legal basis for government action. Legal bases that Parliament itself can change at any time,” Demmer said.

Jan Korte, of the Left, also criticised AfD’s rhetoric: “This is not a law that leads to dictatorship, and whoever claims that mocks the victims of the dictatorship.”

The Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, insisted the priority must be protecting people’s health and that the goal was to find the “right balance” between respecting basic freedoms and restricting public life amid an unprecedented global pandemic.

Germany approved a series of extraordinary measures for November due to a major increase in infections.

For several months, various groups of pandemic deniers, critics of the restrictions and conspiracy theorists have been demonstrating weekly in Germany, sometimes attracting several thousand people. The police have warned that these groups are infiltrated and sometimes led by right-wing extremists. EFE-EPA

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