German police criticized for aggressive actions at lockdown protest

By Marie Frech, dpa

Police in the central German city of Kassel were coming in for criticism on Sunday for their aggressive actions toward a huge crowd of protesters opposed to coronavirus restrictions and another group that turned out against them.

Clashes broke out between police and participants at Saturday’s rally that attracted more than 20,000 people in Kassel, with officers at times using pepper spray on protesters and swinging their batons.

Videos of the melee circulating on social media have provoked an uproar.

One violent encounter shows a police officer in riot gear attempting to snatch away a counter-protester’s bicycle and then hitting the woman, who is wearing a bike helmet, on the back of her head.

“Madness,” wrote Katharina Koenig-Preuss, a state lawmaker from the hard-left Die Linke party, on Twitter. “Tell me, officers, is that OK? Hitting someone on the head, hitting their face on the bike?”

Other videos showed cops knocking protesters to the ground.

The interior minister of the state of Thuringia, where Kassel is located, also voiced concern on Twitter.

“Of course this operation will be critically followed up. The images also raise pressing questions for me. I will not hesitate to inform members of the Interior Committee,” Georg Maier said Saturday night.

The Thuringia police force wrote on Twitter that it had “taken note of the videos currently circulating” and that they would be evaluated along with footage captured by officers.

“We always take criticism of the operational command, our task forces and their approach seriously,” the police wrote.

The unauthorized protest attracted supporters of the so-called Querdenken (Lateral Thinking) movement – made up of Covid-19 deniers, right-wing activists and anti-vaccination campaigners.

Some of the officers’ actions against demonstrators occurred as groups tried to break through police lines.

The International Auschwitz Committee warned that the demonstration was an indication of the state of German society.

“After the demonstration in Kassel, it became clear that democracy in Germany is coming under pressure from the Querdenken movement and its crude mixture of conspiracy theories and contempt for the state, as well as from joint actions with anti-Semitic and right-wing extremist movements,” said the vice president of the committee, Christoph Heubner, on Sunday.

The ideological obstinacy, the aggressiveness and the willingness to use violence would only increase, he said, adding that German law enforcement had so far failed to take the movement seriously enough.

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