Tens of thousands of protesters, many of them far-right groups, marched through Vienna on Saturday after the Austrian government announced a nationwide lockdown from Monday to contain the surge in coronavirus infections.
Protests against virus restrictions also took place in Switzerland, Croatia, Italy, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands on Saturday, a day after Dutch police opened fire on protesters and seven people were injured in the riots that broke out in Rotterdam. Protesters rallied against coronavirus restrictions and the mandatory COVID-19 passes needed in many European countries to enter restaurants, Christmas markets or sporting events, as well as mandatory vaccinations.
The Austrian lockdown will begin on Monday and comes as the average number of daily deaths has tripled in recent weeks and hospitals in heavily affected states have warned that intensive care units are reaching capacity. The lockdown will last for at least 10 days but could go up to 20, officials said. People will only be able to leave their homes for specific reasons, such as shopping for groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.
The government will also make vaccinations mandatory from February 1. Not quite 66% of the 8.9 million Austrians are fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.
Saturday’s march started on Vienna’s huge Heldenplatz square. Sing “Resistance!” And blowing whistles, the demonstrators moved on the inner ring road of the city. Many waved Austrian flags and carried placards mocking Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg and Minister of Health Wolfgang Mueckstein. Some wore doctor’s gowns; others wore aluminum foil hats. Most of the signs focused on the vaccine’s mandate: “My body, my choice,” one read. “We defend our children! Another said.
Among the protesters were members of far-right and far-right parties and groups, including the far-right Freedom Party, the MFG anti-vaccine party and far-right Identitaires.
About 1,300 police were on duty and 35,000 protesters took part in various marches across the city, police said. Police said several protesters had been arrested, but did not give specific figures. Later Saturday evening, protesters threw bottles and cans of beer and fired pyrotechnics at police, who then used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.
Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, appeared on video, denouncing what he called the “totalitarian” measures of a government “that thinks it should. think and decide for us ”.
Schallenberg apologized to everyone who was vaccinated on Friday, saying it was not fair for them to undergo the renewed lockdown restrictions.
“I am sorry for taking this drastic step,” he told public broadcaster ORF.
In neighboring Switzerland, 2,000 people have protested against an upcoming referendum on whether or not to approve the government’s COVID-19 restrictions law, claiming it was discriminatory, public broadcaster SRF reported.
A day after the Rotterdam riots, thousands of people gathered in the central Dam Square in Amsterdam, despite the cancellation of the protest by the organizers. They walked peacefully through the streets, closely watched by the police.
“This policy (anti-coronavirus measures) creates a lot of conflict between people,” Hugo Gietelink from Amsterdam told The Associated Press. “I think it’s very important that the vaccinated and the unvaccinated again form a friendship.”
A few hundred people also marched in the city of Breda, in the south of the Netherlands. An organizer, Joost Eras, told broadcaster NOS he did not expect violence after consulting the police.
“We certainly do not support what happened in Rotterdam. We were shocked by this, ”he said.
In Italy, 3,000 gathered in the capital’s Circus Maximus, a field where the Romans once held popular entertainment, to protest against the “Green Pass” certificates required at workplaces, restaurants, cinemas, public buildings. theaters, sports venues and gymnasiums, as well as for long-distance travel by train, bus or ferry.
“People like us never give up,” read a banner in the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag. Almost no one was wearing a protective mask.
In Northern Ireland, several hundred people opposed to vaccine passports demonstrated outside Belfast City Hall, where the city’s Christmas market opened on Saturday – a market where proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test was required.
The government of Northern Ireland voted this week to introduce vaccination certificates for admission to nightclubs, bars and restaurants from December 13.
Some protesters carried signs that were widely criticized as offensive, comparing the restrictions on coronaviruses to actions by Nazi Germany.
In Croatia, thousands of people gathered in the capital of Zagreb, carrying flags, nationalist and religious symbols, as well as banners against vaccination and what they describe as restrictions on people’s freedoms.
In France, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin condemned the violent demonstrations on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, one of the French overseas territories. Darmanin said 29 people were arrested by police overnight. Authorities were sending 200 more police to the island and will impose a nighttime curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. on Tuesday.
Protesters in Guadeloupe organized roadblocks and set cars on fire. They denounce France’s COVID-19 health pass, which is mandatory for access to restaurants and cafes, cultural places, sports arenas and long-distance travel. They are also protesting against compulsory vaccinations in France for healthcare workers.
Grieshaber reported from Berlin. PA reporters from across Europe contributed to the reporting.
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic