German protesters resist attempts by police to stop march

Demonstrators in the German city of Leipzig on Saturday resisted attempts by police to stop them marching in a protest against the government and its measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 20,000 people from across Germany had turned out in the event organized by the Querdenken (Lateral Thinking) movement, thousands more than expected by authorities.

City authorities had earlier lost a court ruling to keep demonstrators out of the urban centre as judges allowed the event to go ahead with up to 16,000 people in attendance on an inner-city square.

Thousands of protesters marched on an inner-city ring road, ignoring a ban by authorities to do so, after police ended the earlier rally due to uncountable violations of social distancing rules.

A police spokesman said 90 per cent of the participants did not wear face masks, also there were more than the 16,000 people permitted present.

Similar to earlier protests, the participants were a mix of average citizens, conspiracy theorists, adherents to esoteric worldviews and right-wing extremists.

Some of the marchers called for “Peace, Freedom, against Dictatorship” and “Merkel muss weg”, urging an end to the chancellorship of Angela Merkel.

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A few demonstrators clashed with counter-protesters, police said. According to the journalist union DJU there were at least 32 attacks on reporters, most of them by Querdenken participants.

Ahead of the protest, the authorities had attempted to move the event to the site of the city’s new trade fair grounds to the north of the centre rather than allow a march in the inner city area, citing precisely the regulations that the protesters object to.

“It is hard to explain that while only members of two households are allowed to meet, 16,000 people are allowed to demonstrate on a square,” city spokesman Matthias Hasberg told dpa, referring to the social distancing rules currently in force in Germany.

In the southern German city of Munich, however, a court upheld bans on protests planned by the Querdenken movement for Sunday and the coming week.

In remarks to dpa on Friday, Querdenken founder Michael Ballweg distanced the organization from all forms of extremism after earlier protests drew right-wing radicals.

He noted that the movement could not prevent people with extremist ideas joining the rally and said it was up to the police to act if they engaged in acts or used symbols contrary to the German constitution.

Supporters of the Reichsbuerger (Reich citizens) movement, which rejects the legitimacy of the modern German state, along with groups of right-wing extremists have been seen at past Querdenken rallies.

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