Scuffles in Berlin as Covid sceptics defy protest ban
Published : Aug 1, 2021 - 21:26
Updated : Aug 1, 2021 - 21:26
Demonstrators attend a protest against government measures to curb the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Berlin, Germany August 1. (Reuters-Yonhap)
BERLIN (AFP) -- Hundreds of anti-lockdown demonstrators defied a court-ordered protest ban on Sunday and gathered illegally in the streets of Berlin, resulting in scuffles with police.

Police said some protesters had "harassed and attacked" officers in the capital's western Charlottenburg district and ignored roadblocks.

"They tried to break through the police chain and pull out our colleagues. This led to the use of irritants, batons and physical violence," Berlin police tweeted. Several people were arrested, they added.

The protest was called by the "Querdenker" (Lateral Thinkers) movement, which has emerged as the loudest voice against Germany's coronavirus restrictions.

Judges had banned several of its planned demos this weekend, including one for Sunday that was meant to draw some 22,500.

The court said it could not allow the rallies to go ahead over fears participants would flout rules on mask wearing and social distancing, at a time when Germany's infection numbers are on the rise again.

Berlin police deployed more than 2,000 officers in riot gear across the city, in anticipation of protesters gathering despite the ban.

Some of the demonstrators held up signs saying "Freedom" and "No to the corona dictatorship", with very few masks seen among the crowds.

Germany's Querdenker movement has drawn in a mix of people, including anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists as well as members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Querdenker protests have drawn thousands, at times tens of thousands, but are often broken up early for violating virus rules. Several of the demos have descended into violence.

Germany's domestic security service announced in April that it was placing some Querdenker members under observation over concerns they pose a threat to democracy and have ties to right-wing extremism.