BERLIN—German police unleashed water cannon on Wednesday in an effort to scatter thousands of protesters angry over plans to empower Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to enforce restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Protesters near Berlin’s landmark Brandenburg Gate threw bottles at police and set off smoke bombs, witnesses reported. Riot police detained some protesters while firing volleys of water and urging crowds by loudspeaker to disperse.
Demonstrators were fuming about legislation due to be passed by parliament that could allow the federal government to impose curbs on social contact, rules on mask-wearing, drinking alcohol in public, shutting shops, and stopping sports events.
Critics say the law gives the national government too much power and endangers citizens’ civil rights without the approval of parliament.
Some protesters held banners with slogans such as “For Enlightenment. Peace and Freedom” and “Stop the corona pandemic lie”. Many people were waving the German flag.
The conservative Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has even compared the move to enhance the powers of Merkel’s government with the 1933 Enabling Act that paved the way to Hitler’s Nazi dictatorship.
Police were keen to avoid a repeat of an incident in August when, during mass marches against coronavirus curbs, protesters stormed the steps of the Reichstag parliament building.
Germany on Nov. 2 imposed a month-long “lockdown lite” to stem the spread of COVID-19. Bars and restaurants are closed, but schools and shops remain open.
Private gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people from two households.