Alarm in Ger­many as ‘corona demos’ take off

Kuwait Times - - Local -

MU­NICH: An­gered by a slew of lock­down mea­sures, pur­ported vac­cine plans or al­leged state sur­veil­lance, thou­sands took to the streets on Satur­day in Ger­many in a grow­ing wave of demon­stra­tions that has alarmed even Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel. Ini­tially start­ing as a hand­ful of pro­test­ers de­cry­ing tough re­stric­tions on pub­lic life to halt trans­mis­sion of the coron­avirus, the demon­stra­tions have swelled in re­cent weeks to gath­er­ings of thou­sands in ma­jor Ger­man ci­ties. Huge num­bers of anti-lock­down pro­test­ers, con­spir­acy the­o­rists, anti-vaxxers or ex­trem­ists massed across Ger­many again on Satur­day, with more than 5,000 gath­er­ing in Stuttgart, at least 1,500 in Frank­furt and around 1,000 in Mu­nich.

“Corona is fake”, claimed one poster held aloft in Stuttgart, “Iso­la­tion, Masks, Track­ing, Vac­cine — that’s a no go”, cried another. Po­lice in Berlin made 200 ar­rests as scuf­fles broke out, while in Ham­burg, con­spir­acy the­o­rists

clashed with anti-lock­down pro­test­ers. The grow­ing demon­stra­tions have sparked com­par­i­son to the an­tiMus­lim Pegida marches at the height of Europe’s refugee cri­sis in 2015, rais­ing ques­tions over whether the strong sup­port that Merkel is cur­rently en­joy­ing due to her han­dling of the virus cri­sis could evap­o­rate.

Just as it won pop­u­lar­ity by fan­ning anti-mi­grant sen­ti­ment five years ago, the far-right AfD party is now openly en­cour­ag­ing pro­test­ers and repo­si­tion­ing it­self as an anti-lock­down party. A re­cent poll com­mis­sioned by the Spiegel news mag­a­zine found that al­most one in four Ger­mans sur­veyed voiced “un­der­stand­ing” for the demon­stra­tions. The devel­op­ment has shocked the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, with Merkel re­port­edly telling the top brass of her cen­tre-right CDU party of the “wor­ry­ing” trend that may bear some hall­marks of Rus­sia’s dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns.

‘Vil­i­fi­ca­tion’

Ger­many in March took un­prece­dented mea­sures to shut down pub­lic life. While a huge ma­jor­ity of Ger­mans back the ac­tion, giv­ing Merkel’s gov­ern­ment a big boost in ap­proval rat­ings, dis­sent is fo­ment­ing, par­tic­u­larly on­line where YouTube videos cham­pi­oning con­spir­acy the­o­ries or quack med­i­cal ad­vice are at­tract­ing tens of thou­sands of views. Seek­ing to counter ab­surd claims, Pres­i­dent Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier said that al­though he wasn’t a med­i­cal prac­ti­tioner, he could safely sug­gest that the “un­com­fort­able and cum­ber­some face mask is more to be rec­om­mended than a tin-foil hat”. —AFP

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