Live

Watch CBSN Live

Hundreds arrested, police use water cannons to quell "aggressive" protests against Germany's COVID rules

Berlin — Demonstrations by opponents of the German government's coronavirus policy escalated on Wednesday with police using water cannons to break up the protests and making at least 200 arrests, according to Berlin's police force.

Protest against the government's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Berlin
A police officer uses a pepper spray on demonstrators during a protest against the government's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, November, 18, 2020. CHRISTIAN MANG / REUTERS

As lawmakers in the German parliament voted to amend the country's Infection Protection Act, which lays out the restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, thousands were protesting in the capital, accusing the government of using the law to curtail basic rights and establish a "corona dictatorship."

While Germany has not imposed a nationwide lockdown, all state and local governments have imposed restrictions on travel and leisure activities and closed non-essential businesses. Schools and nurseries remain open. Masks are required in all public places across the country, also per state laws.

The amendments to the national law passed by lawmakers on Wednesday were intended to clarify which protective measures can be ordered by state governments.

To avoid disturbing the parliamentary session, the Federal Ministry of the Interior had ordered extensive cordons around the Bundestag, or parliament.

Between 5,000 and 10,000 people gathered in the government district of Berlin, according to police estimates, to protest against the measures. 

The police said most protesters refused to adhere to social distancing rules or wear masks as required, despite repeated requests, so officers asked organizers to end the demonstrations.

Protest against the government's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Berlin
Demonstrators are sprayed with a water cannon during a protest against the government's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, next to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, November, 18, 2020. FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS

The Berlin police said officers were attacked with bottles, firecrackers, stones and pepper spray, prompting the decision to bring in water cannons to break up the protests.

Up to 2,200 police officers were deployed, including officers brought in from nine other German states and the federal police.

Rainer Wendt, chairman of the German police union, said he expected the police deployment to last "many hours" to break up assemblies scattered around central Berlin, including one in front of the iconic Brandenburg Gate where he said "protesters were in an aggressive mood."

Coronavirus skeptics have spread conspiracy theories about the virus and the looming vaccines for months, organizing protests like Wednesday's via social media. At one demonstration earlier this year, hundreds of protesters broke through a barrier and reached the entrance of the parliament before being turned away.

A few weeks ago demonstrations in Leipzig and Frankfurt turned violent, with clashes between protesters and police and about a dozen arrests.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue