Police arrest 190 at Berlin coronavirus protest

Police and protesters clashed as parliament approved changes to virus prevention laws.

Police arrest 190 at Berlin coronavirus protest

German police used tear gas and water cannon to break up a protest against coronavirus restrictions near Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate Wednesday, while lawmakers in the nearby parliament building approved changes to virus prevention laws.

Police, who had earlier warned the several thousand demonstrators, many of whom were not wearing masks or distancing, to adhere to restrictions, said they made 190 arrests.

“Two of [those arrested] will be brought before a judge. Nine [police officers] were injured in action,” they said. Police also confirmed to tabloid Bild that Karsten Hilse, a lawmaker for the far-right Alternative for Germany party, was briefly detained because he wasn’t wearing a face mask.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government sought changes to the law because German courts have repeatedly derailed some coronavirus measures over a lack of a legal basis. In October, courts in several German states said a ban on the accommodation of travelers from areas with high rates of coronavirus infections was against the law, and repealed it.

With the new measures, the government wants to ensure that it can legally take extreme steps in the case of a severe pandemic. One paragraph on lockdown measures attracted particular criticism from opposition parties.

Health Minister Jens Spahn insisted the law strikes a balance between coronavirus restrictions and protecting democratic freedoms. Lauding the government’s handling of the pandemic, he said: “Where would you rather be during this pandemic than in […] Germany?”

But the opposition wasn’t having it.

“This reformed law does not create the legal clarity we need, nor does it create the clear predictability of government action in a pandemic,” said Christian Lindner, leader of the pro-business Free Democrats, calling it a “blank check” for government bypassing parliament.

Left-wing Die Linke MP Jan Korte said the government was behaving “almost monarchistically,” and the updated law would lead to a deterioration of trust in politics. Alexander Gauland, from Alternative for Germany, said the law was the “heaviest restriction of fundamental rights in the history of the Federal Republic” of Germany, adding he saw “symptoms of an approaching, smart health dictatorship.”

The law was passed by 415 votes to 236.