Huge Berlin coronavirus protest sparks debate over right to assemble

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Berlin – Politicians from both sides of the political spectrum are reassessing Germany’s approach to protests during the pandemic, after thousands of people gathered in Berlin at the weekend at an event flouting hygiene measures.

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The freedom to assemble is a “particularly important legal right,” Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht told the Monday edition of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

However, she said that rules must be followed in order to limit coronavirus infections and so as not to endanger others.

“I have no understanding for demonstrators who arrogantly defy this,” Lambrecht, a member of the centre-left Social Democrats, was quoted as saying.

Armin Schuster, an expert for interior affairs in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), suggested banning mass demonstrations like the rally seen in Berlin altogether.

Police said up to 17,000 people took part in a march against coronavirus restrictions in the capital on Saturday, with a subsequent rally attracting a crowd of some 20,000.

Because many participants were not keeping the required distance from one another or wearing masks, police broke up the event in the early evening.

Schuster said it would be appropriate “to permit (such demonstrations) only under far stricter constraints or not at all,” in comments to the Rheinische Post newspaper.

His CDU colleague, Thorsten Frei, who is deputy head of the conservative party’s group in parliament, stressed that demonstrations should only be restricted in exceptional cases.

“But when the demonstrations themselves become a high risk, the state cannot stand by and watch,” he told the newspaper Die Welt.

(dpa/NAN)


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