Police clashed with protesters in Berlin on Wednesday as they tried to disperse a rally against the coronavirus lockdown, as parliament approved a law to give Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government more powers to fight a third wave of the pandemic.
Merkel drew up the law after some of Germany’s 16 federal states refused to impose tough measures despite a surge in cases. Her government has come under fire for its chaotic handling of lockdowns and slow vaccination campaign.
Police said on Twitter they would break up the protest because many in the crowds of demonstrators were not wearing face masks or keeping a distance from one another. Up to 2,200 officers were on duty in Berlin to manage the protests.
Some 150 people were detained after they attacked officers or disregarded distancing rules. Police had to use pepper spray against other demonstrators who threw bottles and tried to climb over barriers.
“Peace, freedom, no dictatorship!” some protestors chanted, many waving German flags and banners which said the coronavirus lockdown undermines values enshrined in the constitution.
Germans are sensitive to any measures which threaten their freedom due to the country’s Nazi and Communist past and demonstrations against the legislation have been staged in the last few weeks in towns across the country.
The new law enables the national government to impose curfews between 10 p.m. (2000 GMT) and 5 a.m. (0300 GMT), as well as limits on private gatherings, sport and shop openings. Schools will close and return to online lessons if the virus incidence exceeds 165 cases per 100,000 residents.
The law was approved with the backing of 342 lawmakers while 250 voted against and 64 abstained.
Alexander Gauland, parliamentary head of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, said the government was fighting the pandemic with the wrong measures. “They are stuck in their trenches,” he told the Bundestag debate on the law.
Ralph Brinkhaus, parliamentary leader of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said politicians had to balance civil liberties with the need to save lives. “We are in a situation where too many people are dying,” he said.
Germany reported a rise of 24,884 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to nearly 3.19 million. Some 80,634 people have died and doctors have warned that unless action is taken, intensive-care units may struggle to cope.
However, in the last few days the seven-day incidence rate has inched down and is now at 160.1 per 100,000.
The legislation is due to go to the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament, on Thursday.