Thousands march in Berlin against coronavirus curbs

BERLIN (Reuters) – Thousands marched in Berlin on Saturday to protest measures taken in Germany to curb the coronavirus pandemic. They said they violated people's rights and freedoms.

The gathering, estimated by the police at 17,000, included libertarians, constitutional loyalists, and anti-vaccine activists. There was also a small right-wing extremist presence with a few demonstrators wearing the black, white and red imperial flags of Germany.

The demonstrators danced and sang "We are free people!" On the melody of the rock band Queen "We Will Rock You". Others marched with posters that said: "We make noise because you steal our freedom!" And "Think! Don't wear a mask!"

"Our demand is to return to democracy," said a protester who refused to give his name. "The mask that enslaves us has to go."

The protests followed an appeal by Michael Ballweg, an entrepreneur and political outsider who organized similar rallies in Stuttgart and wants to become mayor of the southwestern city.

The police filed a complaint against the organizer for failing to ensure that the demonstrators wore masks and kept their distance. Mainstream politicians criticized the protesters, and Social Democratic co-chair Saskia Esken called them "Covidiots".

"They not only endanger our health, but also our successes against the pandemic," tweeted Esken, whose party is Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition partner.

After Germany's first success in containing the pandemic, infections are increasing again. More than 200,000 people have caught COVID-19 and nearly 1,000 have died.

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Most people in Germany have respected measures that involve wearing face masks in shops, while the government has just imposed mandatory tests for vacationers returning from high-risk areas.

But a vocal minority scrubs the restrictions.

"Few scientists around the world who follow government leadership are heard," protester Peter Konz said. Those who disagree are "silenced, censored, or discredited as defenders of conspiracy theories."

Reuters TV coverage, letter from Douglas Busvine; Editing by Giles Elgood

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