Low turnout for German protests against COVID-19 restrictions

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BERLIN – Far fewer people attended protests against coronavirus restrictions on Saturday in several German cities than organisers had initially expected.

Numbers were down at rallies in the capital Berlin, as well as in Stuttgart, Cologne, Munich, Frankfurt and Hanover, following several weeks in which swelling numbers had protested against restrictions to stem the pandemic.

Several dozen people attended a protest in Stuttgart, far fewer than the 500 registered and a sharp drop from 5,000 attendees the previous weekend.

But they might have another chance on Sunday, after a Saturday court ruling overturning a ban against the far-right Alternative for Germany party conducting its own rally in the city that day.

Meanwhile, in Berlin, celebrity TV chef, Attila Hildmann, was temporarily arrested on the way to a rally at the chancellery.

Hildmann was accused of violating coronavirus restrictions, a police spokeswoman said.

The chef, who is known for his vegan recipes, recently came to the attention of authorities in connection with the spread of coronavirus conspiracy theories, the Police said.

According to the Police, more than 100 people had gathered around Hildmann in Berlin’s Central Lustgarten Park.

The Police said it seemed as if he was planning to lead them in a march, something not currently permitted under Germany’s coronavirus restrictions.

Officers intervened and briefly arrested Hildmann, before releasing him again in time for him to address a rally of around 100 people, a dpa reporter at the scene said.

Hildmann said of his arrest that a crowd of people had formed around him once he was recognised.

Officers had then stopped the crowd moving and when he had asked about the legal basis for their actions, he had been “violently arrested’’.

The police did not comment.

Overall in the capital, around 1,100 police officers were deployed in preparation for what had been expected to be well-attended demonstrations and counter-demonstrations.

Yet only a handful of people attended a demonstration at the city’s central Victory Column, while another protest was abandoned by the organiser after 100 people turned up, twice as many as permitted, the Police said.

Elsewhere, in the northern city of Hamburg, the Police deployed a water cannon on the sidelines of a demonstration against the coronavirus restrictions attended by around 750 participants.

The Police said they had intervened to break up an unauthorised counterdemonstration of around 120 people who refused officers’ requests to disband.

Several Hamburg organisations had called for counterdemonstrations, as they said they expected radical far-right elements to attend the rally.

In the south, heavy rains and thunderstorms put a dampener on 60 separate rallies planned across the state of Bavaria.

In the state capital Munich, organisers called off at the last minute a demonstration they had expected to be attended by 1,000 people, due to the inclement weather.

In Nuremberg, only a handful of people braved the rain for the protest, far fewer than the 500 registered, the Police said.

A few hundred demonstrated in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, but here too police said numbers were far lower than expected.

Just 360 of the 1,000 registered participants attended a protest in the western city of Essen.

In Cologne, about 250 formed a human chain, about half those expected to attend.

The rallies largely went off without incident, the emergency services said.

Protests also took place in the central state of Hesse.

The Police counted several hundred participants at a demonstration in Frankfurt, while another 40 people attended a similar rally in Erfurt.

Rallies in Hanover and Bremen were attended by 130 and 170 people respectively, the Police said.

Many of the rallies were also met with small counterdemonstrations.

Thousands took to the streets last weekend in cities throughout Germany, protesting against coronavirus restrictions and what they argue are violations of constitutional rights.

Many also turned out for counterdemonstrations against conspiracy theories and against right-wing groups that the Police had warned could exploit the unrest.

There might be at least one protest on Sunday, following a court ruling overturning a ban against the far-right Alternative for Germany will push ahead with a separate rally in the city on Sunday. (dpa/NAN)

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