Berlin police shut down protest against virus restrictions

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People gather at the Victory Column as they attend a protest rally in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020 against new coronavirus restrictions in...
A participant of a demonstration against the Corona measures holds a German flag with the writing "We are the people", the motto of the 1989 revolutio...
A participant forms a heart with her hands during a demonstration against the corona measures of the German Government in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, A...
Participants gather at the Brandenburg Gate for a demonstration against the Corona measures and hold a banner with the picture of US President Trump a...
Counter-demonstrators of a rally against the Corona measures gather and hold out a banner reading "Masks on Nazis out" in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, A...
People attend a protest rally in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020 against new coronavirus restrictions in Germany, holding a sign with Bill Ga...
A protestor holds a sign reading "Stop the Corona Madness!" during demonstrations against the coronavirus measures by the German Government in Berlin,...
Protestors hold a banner reading "Please, Mr. President, Make Germany Great Again!" during demonstrations against the coronavirus measures by the Germ...
A protestor holds a flag of the German Reich with a picture of US President Donald Trump in front of the Brandenburg Gate before a demonstration again...
The participant in a demonstration against the Corona measures blows into a vuvuzela with a German and an Israeli flag in front of a police chain in B...
Police clearing a street during a demonstration against the Corona measures in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. (Bernd Von Jutrczenka/dpa via...
A police chain stands opposite the participants in a demonstration against the Corona measures at barrier bars in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Aug. 29, ...

People gather at the Victory Column as they attend a protest rally in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020 against new coronavirus restrictions in...

A participant of a demonstration against the Corona measures holds a German flag with the writing "We are the people", the motto of the 1989 revolutio...

A participant forms a heart with her hands during a demonstration against the corona measures of the German Government in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, A...

Participants gather at the Brandenburg Gate for a demonstration against the Corona measures and hold a banner with the picture of US President Trump a...

Counter-demonstrators of a rally against the Corona measures gather and hold out a banner reading "Masks on Nazis out" in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, A...

People attend a protest rally in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020 against new coronavirus restrictions in Germany, holding a sign with Bill Ga...

A protestor holds a sign reading "Stop the Corona Madness!" during demonstrations against the coronavirus measures by the German Government in Berlin,...

Protestors hold a banner reading "Please, Mr. President, Make Germany Great Again!" during demonstrations against the coronavirus measures by the Germ...

A protestor holds a flag of the German Reich with a picture of US President Donald Trump in front of the Brandenburg Gate before a demonstration again...

The participant in a demonstration against the Corona measures blows into a vuvuzela with a German and an Israeli flag in front of a police chain in B...

Police clearing a street during a demonstration against the Corona measures in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. (Bernd Von Jutrczenka/dpa via...

A police chain stands opposite the participants in a demonstration against the Corona measures at barrier bars in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Aug. 29, ...

BERLIN (AP) — Berlin police ordered a protest by people opposed to Germany's pandemic restrictions to disband Saturday after participants refused to observe social distancing rules.

Tens of thousands of people had gathered at the German capital's iconic Brandenburg Gate in the morning before streaming down the Unter den Linden boulevard in a show of defiance against Germany's coronavirus prevention measures.

Protesters carried a wide range of grievances and banners proclaiming their opposition to vaccinations, face masks and the German government in general. Some waved American, Russian or German Reich flags, while others had T-shirts promoting the “QAnon” conspiracy theory. Several wore clothing with white nationalist slogans and neo-Nazi insignia, but most participants denied having far-right views.

Uwe Bachmann, 57, said he had come from southwestern Germany to protest for free speech and his right not to wear a mask.

“I respect those who are afraid of the virus,” said Bachmann, who was wearing a costume and a wig that tried to evoke stereotypical Native American attire. He suggested, without elaborating, that “something else” was behind the pandemic.

Another protester said he wanted Germany's current political system abolished and a return to the constitution of 1871 on the grounds that the country's post-war political system was illegal. Providing only his first name, Karl-Heinz, he had traveled with his sister from their home near the Dutch border to attend the protest and believed that the coronavirus cases being reported in Germany now were “false positives."

Germany has seen an upswing in new cases in recent weeks. The country's disease control agency reported Saturday that Germany had almost 1,500 new infections over the past day. Germany has been praised for the way it has handled the pandemic, and the country's death toll of some 9,300 people is less than one-fourth the amount of people who have died of COVID-19 in Britain.

Berlin's regional government had sought to ban the protest, citing anti-mask rallies earlier this month where rules intended to stop the virus from being spread further weren’t respected. Protest organizers successfully appealed the decision Friday, though a court ordered them to ensure social distancing. Failure to enforce that measure prompted Berlin police to dissolve the march.

Along the route were several smaller counter-protests where participants shouted slogans against the far-right's presence at the anti-mask rally.

“I think there's a line and if someone takes to the streets with neo-Nazis then they've crossed that line,” said Verena, a counter-protester from Berlin who declined to provide her surname.

In Germany, masks have to be worn on public transport, stores and some public buildings such as libraries and schools.

Meanwhile, a few hundred people rallied Saturday in eastern Paris to protest new mask rules and other restrictions prompted by rising virus infections around France. Police watched closely but did not intervene.

The protesters had no central organizer but included people in yellow vests who formerly protested economic injustice, others promoting conspiracy theories and those who call themselves “Anti-Masks.”

France has not seen an anti-mask movement like some other countries. Masks are now required everywhere in public in Paris as authorities warn that infections are growing exponentially just as schools are set to resume classes.

France registered more than 7,000 new virus infections in a single day Friday, up from several hundred a day in May and June, in part thanks to ramped-up testing. It has the third-highest coronavirus death toll in Europe after Britain and Italy, with over 30,600 dead.

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Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak