Protests against covid restrictions turn violent across Europe

21 November 2021, 12:47 | Updated: 21 November 2021, 16:53

Protesters gathered outside the Austrian embassy in London yesterday, protesting the country's vaccine mandate.
Protesters gathered outside the Austrian embassy in London yesterday, protesting the country's vaccine mandate. Picture: Alamy

By Elizabeth Haigh

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Protesters in cities across Europe have rallied in recent days against the reimposing of coronavirus restrictions and vaccine mandates.

Europe has seen rising case rates in recent weeks, but many nations' vaccination rates are lower than in the UK.

Tens of thousands of people marched through Brussels on Sunday to protest against Covid-19 measures to counter the latest rise in coronavirus cases.

Police estimated the demonstration numbered 35,000 people.

Shouting "Freedom, freedom, freedom", and singing the anti-fascist song Bella Ciao, protesters lined up behind a banner saying "Together for Freedom".

Small pockets of violence emerged, and police used water cannons to disperse protesters.

Austria's Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced a new 10-day lockdown on Friday, as well as the introduction of a vaccine mandate which will take effect in February 2022.

He blamed the unvaccinated for the new measures, which come just days after a lockdown for un-jabbed people was announced earlier this week.

Just 66 per cent of the population has been vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.

Around 35,000 people protested the measures on Saturday in the country's capital, Vienna.

Around 1,300 police officers were on duty to control the crowds, and pepper spray was used to disperse protesters after fireworks and bottles were thrown at police.

The protests in Austria have been encouraged by far-right party the FPÖ, which is openly vaccine-sceptic and anti-lockdown.

The party's media spokesperson Herbert Kickl reacted to the mandate: "As of today, Austria is a dictatorship."

Crowds also gathered outside the Austrian embassies in London and Paris to protest the vaccine mandate.

Read more: Police open fire on anti-vax protestors in Netherlands after fireworks thrown at officers

In the Netherlands, Rotterdam's mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, condemned "an orgy of violence" at Friday's demonstrations where seven people were hurt and more than 20 were arrested.

Riots broke out as a response to a partial lockdown announced by the government, set to last three weeks.

The Netherlands also intends to introduce a Covid vaccine pass and ban fireworks on New Year's Eve.

The violence saw a number of rioters and police officers injured after police opened fire on the crowd.

"On a number of occasions the police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves," Mr Aboutaleb told reporters in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Meanwhile seven were arrested after rioters threw fireworks at police officers in The Hague.

Local media reported rioters started fires and burned bicycles, wooden pallets and even motorised scooters.

Five officers were injured, one of whom had to be hospitalised according to a tweet from police.

Read more: Over-40s in England to be invited for Covid booster jab from Monday

On Saturday evening thousands gathered peacefully in Amsterdam.

Meanwhile Switzerland is to hold a vote on November 28 about a covid certificate.

Thousands protested in Zurich against the nation's policies. including in response to the proposed certificates.

Croatia has also struggled with anti-vaxx theories, and less than half of the population have been vaccinated.

Masks remain mandatory in the country in all indoor public spaces, and outdoors where social distancing cannot be maintained.

Thousands gathered in the capital Zagreb yesterday carrying Croatian flags, nationalist and religious symbols. Many held banners against vaccination.