Police break up large Berlin protests as legislature debates tougher coronavirus laws

Several thousand people protested in Berlin against the German government’s push to enshrine coronavirus restrictions into an existing law. Police intervened as the crowds sought to approach parliament.

Several thousand people gathered in central Berlin, banging pans and blowing whistles, to protest Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German government’s push to better enforce coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday. 

Police deploy water cannons in Berlin

“Police calling on demonstrators to leave. Lots of booing. Demonstrators want to access cordoned-off area around parliament where new additions to infection law are being debated [at the moment,],” DW’s Nina Haase reported from the scene. 

A tense standoff ensued, as police tried to convince the crowd to disperse amid cries of “We are the people!” and as some protesters started singing the national anthem. 

Police officers in riot gear lined up to stop demonstrators from getting too close to the parliament building, seeking to avoid scenes from August when a similar protest reached the Reichstag parliament building. Back then, during a weekend demo, politicians were not in session. 

What would the new rules entail?

Germany’s lower and upper houses are examining proposed changes to Germany’s existing infection protection law, catering more specifically to the coronavirus pandemic. The news measures under scrutiny on Wednesday could enable the government to impose restrictions on social contact, rules on mask-wearing, drinking alcohol in public, shutting shops and stopping sports events. 

Advocates say the bill would provide a more solid legal basis for distance requirements, face masks and restrictions on movement, meetings in private and public spaces, as well as cultural and leisure activities. It would also cover rules on school and daycare closures, and restrictions on educational institutions.  

Dubbed the Infection Protection Act, the law will be up for a vote in the German Bundestag and will likely be approved. It will then be sent to the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament, for a final debate. 

Once it clears both houses, the new law would be sent to President Frank-Walter Steinmeier for a signature — with that final step a formality.

Some 17,561 new coronavirus cases were reported in Germany on Wednesday, bringing its total number of infections to 833,307.  

The latest infection figures are a slight drop from the same day last week, when Germany reported 18,487 cases, and daily case numbers have plateaued somewhat in recent days. But infection levels are still far higher than the government deems acceptable in most of the country, and more than four times the government’s own limit in Berlin itself. 

Hitler’s enabling act invoked by skeptics

Demonstrators did not actively wear masks or socially distance. But one protester wore a face mask with the words “Merkel-Muzzle,” while others held banners with slogans such as “For Enlightenment. Peace and Freedom.” 

Critics say the coronavirus laws would give the government too much power and endanger citizens’ civil rights. The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) has even gone as far comparing the proposed measures with the Enabling Act of 1933 that paved the way towards Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship, particularly in its social media postings, with one senior member Bernd Baumann saying so in the Bundestag.

A bid by the AfD, Germany’s largest opposition party in the current parliament, to halt proceedings in the Bundestag failed early Wednesday.

dpa/ AFP/ Deutsche Welle

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