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‘Make Austria Great Again’: Thousands protest COVID-19 restrictions in Europe

Click to play video: 'Europe once again the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic' Europe once again the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH: Europe once again the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic – Nov 14, 2021

Tens of thousands of protesters marched through several northwest European cities on Saturday to demonstrate against coronavirus restrictions imposed amid a surge in infections.

Austria last month became the first country in Western Europe to reimpose a lockdown, which is set to last 20 days, and said it would make vaccinations mandatory from February.

Read more: Omicron variant could be dominant strain in Europe within months, health agency says

Some of the more than 40,000 demonstrators in Vienna carried signs reading: “I will decide for myself,” “Make Austria Great Again” and “New Elections” — a nod to the political turmoil that has seen three chancellors within two months.

Around 1,200 police officers deployed for the march on the central Ring boulevard, and a 1,500-strong counter-protest, both allowed under the terms of Austria’s lockdown.

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In the central Dutch town of Utrecht, several thousand demonstrated against restrictions that began last weekend.

Protesters carried banners reading “Medical Freedom Now!”, with a large police contingent present.

It was the first major demonstration in the Netherlands against the measures, which include a nighttime closure of bars, restaurants and most stores to stem a wave of COVID-19 cases that is threatening to overwhelm the health-care system.

Click to play video: 'Thousands protest against COVID-19 restrictions in Brussels: Police' Thousands protest against COVID-19 restrictions in Brussels: Police
Thousands protest against COVID-19 restrictions in Brussels: Police – Nov 21, 2021

Two weeks ago, there were violent protests after the Dutch government announced plans to ban most unvaccinated people from bars, restaurants and other public places.

“We are against having no freedom (to decide what happens to) our own body,” Utrecht demonstrator Marit van Hunen said.

The plans face strong opposition in parliament and have not been enacted yet.

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In the German financial capital, Frankfurt, police broke up a demonstration of several hundred people for failing to wear masks or maintain social distancing, using batons and pepper spray after they were attacked by a group of protesters.

And in Berlin, where a new government is set to take office within days, small groups gathered to protest after a large demonstration was banned.

German politicians broadly condemned a protest by opponents of coronavirus restrictions that took place late on Friday outside the home of Petra Koepping, health minister in the eastern state of Saxony, which currently has Germany’s highest infection rate. Some said it smacked of Nazi-era intimidation.

Reporting by Eva Plevier and Hilde Verweij in the Netherlands, Francois Murphy and Lisi Niesner in Vienna, Emma Thomasson in Berlin Writing by Kevin Liffey Editing by Frances Kerry

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