Scuffles broke out as anti-lockdown protesters marched through central London on Saturday, defying police warnings for them to stay away due to coronavirus restrictions.
Police said they had made 33 arrests, most for COVID regulation breaches, after up to 10,000 people gathered
holding banners with slogans such as “Stop Destroying Our Kids’ Lives” and “Fake Pandemic”. Crowded close to one another, protesters also set off flares.
Under England’s coronavirus rules it is unlawful for groups to gather for the purpose of protest, but opposition to such measures has grown this week, not specifically related to anti-lockdown demonstrations.
Police were criticised for using heavy-handed tactics to break up an outdoor vigil for 33-year-old Sarah Everard on March 13. A police officer has been charged with her kidnap and murder.
More than 60 British lawmakers wrote to interior minister Priti Patel on Friday calling for protests to be allowed during lockdown and saying that attending a demonstration should not be a criminal offence.
“We call on you to expressly exempt protests from restrictions on gatherings,” lawmakers, including Conservative Member of Parliament Steve Baker and Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said in the letter, which was organised by campaign groups Liberty and Big Brother Watch.
There were three consecutive nights of protest in London earlier this week, fuelled by the police reaction to the vigil for Everard, and anger over government plans to tighten the law on demonstrations.
The interior ministry, known as the Home Office, said when asked about the letter that the COVID-19 stay-at-home order remains in place until March 29, and once it ends protests can resume subject to agreeing to respect social distancing.
“While we are still in a pandemic we continue to urge people to avoid mass gatherings, in line with wider coronavirus restrictions,” a spokeswoman said. Police said people breaching COVID-19 regulations could face fines or arrest.
Reuters also reported about the protests in Germany. Police deployed water cannon and pepper spray after a gathering of some 20,000 protesters against lockdown and other coronavirus rules in central Germany turned violent, with some demonstrators throwing bottles at police.
Protesters from all over Germany converged on the central city of Kassel for the march, which was organised by the “Querdenker” – “Lateral Thinkers” – online conspiracy movement.
“Bottles were thrown and there were attempts to break through barriers,” police said on Twitter.
Police said protesters disobeyed instructions they gave to help ensure people’s safety, including by refusing to wear face masks and observe social distancing guidelines.
Protesters carried placards reading “No compulsory vaccination” and “Democracy will not tolerate censorship”. Marchers faced counter-protesters wearing face masks, one of whom held up a placard reading “Vaccinated”.
With Germany in its fourth month of lockdown and vaccination efforts lagging compared to Britain and the United States, many people, from shopkeepers to would-be holidaymakers, are increasingly restive at the lack of a clear path to a return to normal life.
National and regional leaders are due to consult on Monday over the next steps in the national lockdown. But with case numbers rising sharply thanks to the spread of more infectious variants, many politicians are saying it is too early to ease restrictions.