BERLIN (AP) — German officials on Sunday condemned the actions of 20,000 people who demonstrated against coronavirus restrictions by jamming together in a Leipzig city square largely without wearing masks, and called for an investigation into how the protest was able to get out of control.
The eastern city had tried to move Saturday’s demonstration to a larger location after calculating only 5,000 people could gather in Augustusplatz plaza and maintain a safe distance from one another. A court at the last minute overturned the city’s order, however, and the demonstration went ahead.
After it ballooned to more than 20,000 people and authorities determined that coronavirus regulations mandating mask wearing and social distancing weren’t being followed, the crowd was told to disperse. But thousands lingered, some scuffling with reporters and throwing projectiles and fireworks at police.
“What we saw yesterday in Leipzig cannot be justified,” said Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht. “The freedom to demonstrate is not a freedom to use violence or put others at massive risk.”
She “strongly condemned” the attacks on police and the press.
“The mockery of science and right-wing hate speech that we have seen are abhorrent,” she said.
She called for an investigation into how the situation was able to escalate, a sentiment echoed by many, including opposition parties.
“It cannot be that the state stands by and watches as journalists are attacked doing their work and the majority of the demonstrators clearly ignoring the conditions,” said Konstantin Kuhle of the opposition FDP party.
The demonstration came as Germany finished its first week of “lockdown light,” which brings new restrictions to slow spiking coronavirus cases but also keeps schools and shops open.
The country’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said Sunday that Germany had reported 16,017 new cases overnight. That was down from a record of 23,300 new cases set the day before.
A four-week partial shutdown that took effect Nov. 2 closed bars, restaurants, leisure centers and sports facilities and imposed new restrictions on contact with other people. The Robert Koch Institute says any effects from the measures will be seen in two to three weeks.
In Munich, an appeals court on Saturday upheld the southern city’s ban on demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions that were scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. The court ruled authorities in the Bavarian city could ban the demonstrations under infection protection regulations.
Despite the protests, the vast majority of Germans support the government’s effort to slow the spread of the pandemic. The latest polls show the governing parties — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right bloc and its center-left coalition partner the Social Democrats — both gaining support.
Despite the current rising infections, Germany has been praised in general for its efforts to fight the virus and has a confirmed coronavirus death toll of 11,289, which is one-fourth of Britain’s.
Lambrecht urged even those opposed to the new coronavirus measures to go along, if not for their own protection for that of others.
“Thousands of people packed tightly to each other without masks are the peak of irresponsibility and egotism,” she said. “People are dying daily of the coronavirus. Those who deny this danger are positioning themselves against the vast majority of our society, who adhere to the rules to protect themselves and everyone else.”
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