Europe witnessed a wave of anti-lockdown protests on Saturday. Germany saw a huge surge in demonstrations. Thousands came out in Berlin, Munich, and Stuttgart against the measures imposed in the wake of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters in Warsaw, Poland and arrests were made in London’s Hyde park, the European media reported.

As new cases of the coronavirus register a drop, many Europeans want an end to the lockdown. Germany and France started phasing out their restriction following the Easter weekend. The United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain, the countries worst hit by the pandemic, are moving towards gradual phasing out of the measures. Despite these rollbacks, thousands came out to protest the government restrictions on businesses, social interaction, and freedom of movement.

Demonstrators in Germany were reportedly hostile to journalists, blaming them for toeing the government line and for painting critics of the lockdown as extremists. “In recent weeks, similar rallies have seen several attacks against journalists, along with people disregarding distancing regulations,” the German media reported.

Bonn-based broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported on protests held in Germany, Poland, and the United Kingdom:

German police detained 200 people in Berlin as several parallel protests were held in the city on Saturday, with some of the protesters rallying against anti-infection measures and others decrying conspiracy theories.

Rival events were also held in Frankfurt, where about 1,500 people gathered to protest the government measures and about the same number of joining a counter-protest, police said.

In Stuttgart, 5,000 people gathered at the designated protest area where they were required to stay 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) from one another, and the authorities were forced to redirect many more to a different area in order to maintain the required distance.

At a separate protest in Poland, police fired tear gas and used force to break up a rally in Warsaw. Hundreds of participants had called the government to lift restrictions on businesses, displaying signs such as “Work and bread” and “It will be normal again.”

A smaller event in London prompted police to arrest 19 people who gathered to protest social distancing rules in the city’s iconic Hyde Park. Police representative Laurence Taylor described the gathering as “disappointing” and said the group had ignored the calls to disperse.

Many of the protesters in Germany feared a government-mandated coronavirus vaccination. Some German government officials have spoken out in favor of a sweeping vaccination program once the antidote is available in the market. “Those who don’t want [the vaccine], must bear the risk of getting infection,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, warned on Friday. Around 20 percent of the population is “skeptical when it comes to vaccines,” German Federal Center for Health Education estimates.

German media and political elite are worried that the right-wing party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), could gain traction as public disaffection with the establishment grows in the wake of the pandemic.

“Berlin fears populists will exploit protest movement,” German weekly Der Spiegel reported on Friday. “[T]he AfD is stirring up protests,” the magazine complained. The grassroots movement over the lockdown could end up boosting the popularity of the anti-establishment party, as it did during the migrant crisis that began in late 2015. “Back during the refugee crisis, the protests also began in splinter groups before becoming more mainstream and boosting the position of the AfD,” Der Spiegel recalled.

The anti-establishment movements are expected to gain ground in the aftermath of the Wuhan pandemic. The European Union faces the worst economic crisis in its history, EU’s economic commissioner Paolo Gentiloni admitted earlier this month. Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, too, has entered into recession.

‘Protests against coronavirus lockdown measures spread in the UK and across Europe’ (ABC News, Australia)

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