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German cops clash with protesters opposed to COVID restrictions

Protesters take part in a march demanding an end to the restrictive coronavirus measures in Kassel, Germany, on March 20, 2021. (Armando Babani/AFP)
Protesters take part in a march demanding an end to the restrictive coronavirus measures in Kassel, Germany, on March 20, 2021. (Armando Babani/AFP)

KASSEL, Germany — Police use pepper spray to disperse people protesting against coronavirus curbs in the German city of Kassel on Saturday, in one of the country’s largest such rallies so far this year.

Several thousand people have gathered at the main protest site on a square in the city center, packed closely together without wearing face masks, an AFP reporter sees.

Scuffles erupt when a group of demonstrators try to break through a police cordon to join up with other protesters, resulting in shoving and prompting officers to use pepper spray.

“This is not what a peaceful protest looks like,” North Hesse police tweet.

Officers had used “pepper spray and batons” against protesters, police say, adding that there had been “repeated attacks” against emergency service workers.

“We don’t tolerate such attacks,” they write, saying they had water cannon on stand by.

The protest was called by the “Querdenker” or Lateral Thinkers movement, an umbrella group that has organized some of Germany’s largest “anti-corona” demonstrations since the start of the pandemic.

The movement has drawn in people from the far-left, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers and right-wing extremists.

Some of them don’t believe the pandemic is real, while others claim the curbs imposed to rein in the coronavirus infringe on their civil rights.

Some demonstrators in Kassel hold up signs that read “End the lockdown” and “Corona rebels,” or carried heart-shaped balloons.

Many also wave “Querdenker” flags from different parts of the country, suggesting people had travelled to join the rally.

The founder of the Querdenker movement, Michael Ballweg, in late December urged supporters to halt their protests until the spring.

Several other German cities saw similar rallies last weekend, but on a smaller scale.

The protests come as Germany is battling a sharp rise in infection rates in the third wave of the pandemic despite months of shutdowns.

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