German police halt march of 18,000 coronavirus sceptics in Berlin after
German police Saturday halted a march by some 18,000 coronavirus sceptics in Berlin because many were not respecting social distancing measures. The mass protest against pandemic restrictions had been allowed to go ahead after a bitter legal battle. But it had barely begun at 9am GMT at the city’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, when it was forced to stop due to a police injunction. “The minimum distancing is not being respected by most (of the demonstrators) despite repeated requests,” the police said. “There is no other option than to break up the gathering.” After the announcement, the demonstrators shouted “Resistance” and “We are the people,” a slogan often used by the far-right, and sang the German national anthem. Police had vowed to turn out in force and strictly monitor compliance with mask-wearing and social distancing at the protest. Berlin police chief Barbara Slowik had warned that if the demonstrators did not adhere to virus safety rules, police would clear the area “very quickly”. “We will not be able or willing to watch tens of thousands assemble and create infection risks,” she added. Berlin city authorities had previously decided not to allow the Saturday demonstration to go ahead, fearing that the estimated 22,000 protesters would not keep a distance of 1.5 metres (five feet) apart or comply with face mask requirements. The ban sparked outrage from organisers and their supporters who flooded social media with angry messages vowing to protest anyway, with some even calling for violence. But on the eve of the demo, Berlin’s administrative court sided with the demonstrators, saying there was no indication that organisers would “deliberately ignore” social distancing rules and endanger public health.