Right-wing protests are breaking out across Europe against COVID-19 restrictions

VIENNA (AP) – Tens of thousands of protesters, many from right-wing extremist groups, marched through Vienna on Saturday after the Austrian government announced a nationwide shutdown on Monday to contain cloud-rocking coronavirus infections.

Demonstrations 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 riots that broke out in Rotterdam. Protesters rallied against coronavirus restrictions and mandatory COVID-19 passports needed in many European countries to enter restaurants, Christmas markets or sporting events, as well as mandatory vaccinations.

The Austrian shutdown starts on Monday and comes as average daily deaths have tripled in recent weeks and hospitals in hard-hit states have warned that intensive care units are reaching capacity. The shutdown will last at least 10 days, but could go up to 20, officials said. People will only be able to leave their homes for specific reasons, including buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.

Protesters in Austria hold up a banner: "The best slave is someone who thinks they are free."
Protesters in Austria hold up a banner: “The best slave is someone who thinks they are free.”

JOE KLAMAR via Getty Images

The government will also make vaccinations mandatory from 1 February. Not quite 66% of Austria’s 8.9 million people are fully vaccinated, which is one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.

Saturday’s march started at Vienna’s massive Heldenplatz square. Singing “resistance!” and in whistles, protesters moved down the city’s inner ring road. Many waved Austrian flags and carried signs mocking Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein. Some wore medical scrubs; others wore tinfoil hats. Most signs focused on the vaccine mandate: “My body, my choice,” one read. “We stand up for our children!” said another.

Among those protesting were members of right-wing extremist and right-wing extremist parties and groups, including the far-right Freedom Party, the MFG vaccine party and the extreme right-wing identities.

About 1,300 police officers were on duty and 35,000 protesters took part in various marches across the city, police said. Politiet sagde, at flere demonstranter blev tilbageholdt, men opgav ikke specifikke tal. Later Saturday night, protesters threw bottles and beer cans and fired pyrotechnics at police, who then used pepper spray to disperse the crowds.

Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl, who was recently tested positive for COVID-19, appeared via video condemning what he called “totalitarian” measures by a government “that believes it should think and decide for us.”

Protesters light fires during a demonstration held by the Austrian right-wing extremist Freedom Party.
Protesters light fires during a demonstration held by the Austrian right-wing extremist Freedom Party.

JOE KLAMAR via Getty Images

Schallenberg apologized to all those vaccinated on Friday, saying it was not fair that they should suffer under the renewed lockdown restrictions.

“I’m sorry to take this drastic step,” he told public television station ORF.

In neighboring Switzerland, 2,000 people protested in an upcoming referendum on whether to approve the government’s COVID-19 restriction law, claiming it was discriminatory, the public television station SRF reported.

A day after the riots in Rotterdam, thousands gathered in Amsterdam’s central Dam Square, despite the organizers interrupting the protest. They walked peacefully through the streets, closely monitored by the police.

“This policy (anti-coronavirus measures) creates a lot of conflicts between people,” Hugo Gietelink from Amsterdam told the Associated Press. “I think it’s very important that the vaccinated and the unvaccinated have to make a friendship again.”

A few hundred people also marched through the southern Dutch city of Breda. An organizer, Joost Eras, told the TV station NOS that he did not expect violence after consulting with the police.

“We certainly do not support what happened in Rotterdam. We were shocked by it,” he said.

In Italy, 3,000 turned up in the capital’s Circus Maximus, a field where the Romans in ancient times stood for popular entertainment, to protest against “Green Pass” certificates required in workplaces, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, sports venues and gyms, as well as for long-distance trains, buses or ferry journeys.

“People like us never give up,” read a banner in the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag. Almost no one wore a protective mask.

In Northern Ireland, hundreds of people protesting against vaccine passports protested 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 Northern Ireland government voted this week to introduce vaccine certificates for access to nightclubs, bars and restaurants starting on 13 December.

Some protesters wore signs that have been widely criticized as offensive, comparing corona restrictions to those of Nazi Germany.

In Croatia, thousands gathered in Zagreb’s capital with flags, nationalist and religious symbols along with banners against vaccination and what they describe as restrictions on people’s freedoms.

In France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin condemned violent protests on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, one of France’s overseas territories. Darmanin said 29 people had been detained by police overnight. Authorities sent 200 more police officers to the island and will on Tuesday impose a nightly curfew from 6 p.m. 18:00 to

Protesters in Guadeloupe have staged roadblocks and set cars on fire. They condemn France’s COVID-19 health pass, which is required to access restaurants and caf├ęs, cultural venues, sports arenas and long-distance travel. They are also protesting against France’s mandatory vaccinations for health workers.

Grieshaber reported from Berlin. AP reporters from across Europe contributed reporting.

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