Tens of thousands protest COVID-19 restrictions in Vienna as lockdown looms

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Tens of thousands of protesters, many from far-right groups, marched through Vienna on Saturday after the Austrian government announced a nationwide lockdown from Monday to contain the soaring coronavirus infections in the country.

Among the protesters were members of far-right and far-right parties and groups, including the far-right Freedom Party, the MFG anti-vaccine party and far-right Identitaires.

Protests against virus restrictions also took place in Switzerland, Croatia and Italy on Saturday.

Dutch police opened fire on protesters on Friday evening and seven people were injured in riots in Rotterdam over COVID-19 restrictions.

WATCH | Rotterdam protest against COVID-19 restrictions turns violent:

Dutch police, rioters clash in protest against COVID-19 restrictions

Police fired during a violent protest against COVID-19 measures in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam on Friday evening. Injuries were reported among rioters and police, and 51 people were arrested. 2:53

Austrian containment will begin on Monday. Initially, it will last 10 days, but it could go up to 20 days, officials said. Most stores will close and cultural events will be canceled. People will only be able to leave their homes for specific reasons, such as shopping for groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.

The Austrian government has also said that from February 1, 2022, vaccinations will become mandatory.

“My body, my choice”

Saturday’s march started on Vienna’s huge Heldenplatz square. About 1,300 police were on duty and 35,000 protesters took part in various marches across the city, police said, adding that most were not wearing masks.

Sing “Resistance!” And blowing whistles, the demonstrators moved on the inner ring road of the city. Many waved Austrian flags and carried placards mocking heads of government, such as Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein.

Some wore doctor’s gowns; others donned foil hats. Most of the signs focused on the upcoming vaccine mandate: “My body, my choice,” one read. “We defend our children! Another said.

Police officers form a circle as they verify the identities of protesters at the demonstration in Vienna on Saturday. (Florian Schroetter / The Associated Press)

Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl, who tested positive for COVID-19 this week and had to remain isolated, made an appearance at the rally by video, denouncing what he called the “totalitarian” measures by a government “that thinks it should think and decide for us.”

Vaccinations in Austria have peaked at one of the lowest rates in Western Europe, and hospitals in heavily affected states have warned their intensive care units are reaching maximum capacity. The average number of daily deaths has tripled in recent weeks. Not quite 66% of the 8.9 million Austrians are fully vaccinated.

Schallenberg apologized to everyone who was vaccinated on Friday, saying it was not fair that they were subjected to the renewed lockdown restrictions when they had done everything to help contain the virus.

“I am sorry for taking this drastic step,” he told public broadcaster ORF.

Events elsewhere in Europe

In neighboring Switzerland, 2,000 people have protested against an upcoming referendum on whether or not to approve the government’s COVID-19 restrictions law, claiming it was discriminatory, public broadcaster SRF reported.

Protesters in Switzerland wear cowbells as they take part in a protest against a COVID-19 restriction bill, in Zurich on Saturday. (Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters)

A day after the Rotterdam riots, thousands of people gathered in Amsterdam’s central Dam Square on Saturday to protest government restrictions on coronaviruses, despite organizers canceling the protest. They marched peacefully through the streets of the city, closely watched by the police.

A few hundred protesters also marched through the southern Dutch town of Breda to protest the lockdown restrictions. An organizer, Joost Eras, told Dutch television station NOS that he did not expect violence after consulting the police on security measures.

“We certainly do not support what happened in Rotterdam. We were shocked by it,” he told NOS.

A burnt out electric scooter is seen in Rotterdam on Saturday morning, the day after the protest against the Dutch government’s COVID-19 measures. (Jeffrey Groeneweg / ANP / AFP / Getty Images)

In France, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin on Saturday condemned the violent demonstrations on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, one of the French overseas territories, over restrictions linked to COVID-19. Darmanin said 29 people were arrested by police overnight. Authorities were sending 200 more police to the island and will impose a nighttime curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. on Tuesday.

Protesters in Guadeloupe organized roadblocks and set cars on fire. They denounce the France COVID-19 health pass, now mandatory for access to restaurants and cafes, cultural places, sports stadiums and long-distance travel. They are also protesting against compulsory vaccinations in France for healthcare workers.

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