Protests spread across Europe as governments impose virus restrictions

Huge protests against coronavirus restrictions broke out across Europe at the weekend, with some turning violent and descending into riots.

ens of thousands of people took to the streets in Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Croatia and Italy as tensions spilled over amid governments’ attempts to curb soaring Covid-19 cases.

An estimated 35,000 marched through central Brussels yesterday to object to new restrictions imposed by the Belgian government.

Many had already gone home when the demonstration descended into violence as several hundred people started pelting police, smashing cars and setting bins ablaze.

Police responded with tear gas and water cannons and sought to restore order when dusk settled on the Belgian capital.

Marchers came to protest about the government’s strong advice to get vaccinated and any possible moves to impose mandatory shots.

Shouting “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” and singing the anti-fascist song Bella Ciao, protesters lined up behind a huge banner saying “Together for Freedom” and marched to the EU headquarters. Amid the crowd, the signs varied from far-right insignia to the rainbow flags of the LGBT community.

The World Health Organisation said last week that Europe was the hot spot of the pandemic right now, the only region in which Covid-19 deaths were rising.

The autumn surge of infections is overwhelming hospitals in many Central and Eastern European nations, including Ukraine, Russia, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Over the past several days, there have been many anti-vaccination marches in European nations as one government after another tightened measures. Dutch police arrested more than 30 people during unrest in The Hague and other towns in the Netherlands on Saturday, following much worse violence the previous night.

Police said yesterday they arrested 19 people in The Hague and used a water cannon to extinguish a fire on a street. Five officers were injured as they tried to break up unrest by a group of youths who set at least two fires on streets and threw fireworks.

Police said in a tweet that one rioter threw a rock at an ambulance carrying a patient to a hospital.

In Rotterdam, police said that three rioters were hit by bullets and investigations were under way to establish whether they had been shot by police on Friday night.

Officers in the city arrested 51 people, about half of them minors. One police officer was hospitalised with a leg injury sustained in the rioting.

Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb called the rioting in his city an “orgy of violence” and said that “on a number of occasions the police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves”.

Two soccer matches in the country’s top professional league were briefly halted when fans  banned from matches under a partial lockdown in force in the Netherlands for a week broke into stadiums in the towns of Alkmaar and Almelo.

Meanwhile, Austria is going into a 10-day national lockdown today for all of its people, after first imposing a lockdown on the unvaccinated.

Christmas markets in Vienna were packed yesterday with locals and tourists alike taking in the holiday sights before shops and food stalls had to close.

The measures are expected to last for a maximum of 20 days but will be re-evaluated after 10. They require people to stay home apart from basic reasons like getting groceries, going to the doctor and exercising. Restaurants and most shops will close, and larger events will be cancelled.

Schools and child care centres will remain open, but parents are encouraged to keep their children at home.

Austria hopes to lift the measures on December 13 but may keep a further lockdown on the unvaccinated.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg also announced Friday that Austria would introduce a vaccine mandate as of February 1. The details of how the mandate will work aren’t yet clear.

In an interview yesterday, Mr Schallenberg said it was sad his government had to resort to a mandate in order to ensure that enough people get vaccinated. Just under 66pc of Austria’s 8.9 million people are fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.

“That people’s freedoms need to be restricted again is, believe me, also difficult for me to bear,” he said.

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Written by Bourbiza Mohamed

A technology enthusiast and a passionate writer in the field of information technology, cyber security, and blockchain

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