Thousands protest in Austria after far-right march on COVID measures gets banned

Thousands of protesters have faced off with police in riot gear in Vienna at the site of a banned far-right demonstration against Austria’s coronavirus restrictions.

Vienna police banned numerous protests planned for this weekend, including one by the far-right Freedom Party on Sunday, on the grounds that protesters have generally failed to observe rules on social distancing and often not worn face masks.

Since December 26, Austria has been in its third national lockdown, with non-essential shops and many other businesses closed and their staff unable to work.

The opposition Freedom Party has denounced various restrictions as “corona madness” and its leaders have sent mixed messages on issues such as vaccinations.

A large group of people march in a demonstration against coronavirus restrictions in Vienna, Austria.A large group of people march in a demonstration against coronavirus restrictions in Vienna, Austria.
The political affiliation of the protesters was not immediately clear.(AFP: Alex Halada)

Freedom Party deputy leader Herbert Kickl on Saturday accused the conservative-led Government of banning criticism in general.

He urged his supporters to go on a walk in the capital instead of attending the banned protest, and to “articulate their displeasure peacefully”. The affiliation of many of Sunday’s protesters was not immediately clear.

Some of them, however, expressed support for the Freedom Party.

Many, often without masks but carrying Austrian flags, opposed conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, chanting and waving banners saying “Kurz must go”.

The crowd, which police estimated at 5,000, gathered on a square in central Vienna across from the former imperial palace as well as from the offices of Mr Kurz and President Alexander Van der Bellen.

Protesters, some without masks, take pictures of a line of police during a demonstration against COVID restrictions in Vienna.Protesters, some without masks, take pictures of a line of police during a demonstration against COVID restrictions in Vienna.
Police confirmed arrests were made but did not specify how many.(AFP: Herbert Neubauer)

Rows of police in riot gear and face masks prevented the crowd from marching down the ring road.

After riots in the Netherlands apparently set off by the introduction of a night-time curfew, Austrian police avoided escalation despite having ordered the crowd to disperse, and the atmosphere was tense but peaceful.

Police did not confirm how many arrests were made.

Reuters

Article source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-01/thousands-protest-in-vienna-as-far-right-march-on-covid-measure/13107756