German president denounces “intolerable” Reich-era flags outside parliament
Berlin, Aug 30 (efe-epa).- Germany’s president Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday condemned an attempt by around 200 far-right activists to storm the Reichstag, the seat of Parliament.
The demonstrators broke through barriers around the building that were set up as part of crowd control measures for a protest against coronavirus restrictions on Saturday.
Reich flags and right-wing extremist rabble in front of the German Bundestag are an intolerable attack on the heart of our democracy. We will never accept that,” Steinmeier said.
Steinmeier said that those who disagree with the measures the government has imposed to fight Covid-19, such as wearing face masks on public transport and social distancing, had the right to do so publicly and peacefully.
“My understanding ends where demonstrators let themselves be harnessed to the wagons of enemies of democracy and political agitators,” Steinmeier said.
The attempted storming of the Reichstag drew condemnation from across the political spectrum, with foreign minister Heiko Maas calling the sight of Reich-era flags outside Germany’s seat of democracy “a disgrace”.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, meanwhile, told Bild newspaper that the Reichstag is the “symbolic centre of our democracy”, saying it is “unacceptable to see extremists and trouble-makers use it for their own ends.”
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Berlin on Saturday to protest against the German government’s coronavirus restrictions.
Images from the march showed thousands of demonstrators, the vast majority not wearing masks or social distancing, walking in a large crowd through downtown Berlin.
As well as signs protesting against the government, face masks, and other Covid-19 restrictions, several demonstrators carried Reich-era German national flags that are often used by right-wing extremists. Some isolated counter-demonstrators were also spotted, carrying signs reading “Keep calm and fight Nazis”.
Police had a heavy deployment of some 3,000 officers on the streets of the capital city to ward off any repeat of the scenes of Aug. 1, when some 30,000 people marched through the center of Berlin, the majority without wearing masks or observing social distancing regulations.
That march ended in clashes between protesters and the police, who moved to shut the protest down because the demonstrators were ignoring those rules.
The issue has generated heated debate in the country over the fundamental rights of freedom of demonstrations and assembly amid restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Andreas Geisel, Berlin’s regional interior senator, has criticised the protesters for flouting coronavirus protection guidelines, saying “the right to protest does not mean the right to break the law.”
Similar demonstrations have been held throughout the summer in Germany, sometimes attracting tens of thousands of people.
The rallies are called by groups made up of conspiracy theorists, anti-vaccination movements, the far-right and others who disagree with the restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly imposed since the pandemic started.
Saturday’s march was held amid a resurgence of coronavirus cases in Germany.
The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control and prevention center, has reported over 1,500 new daily infections for several days.
More than 2,000 new infections were recorded on Aug. 22, the highest tally since April. EFE