Tens of thousands took to the streets in Austria and Australia Saturday as anger mounted over fresh Covid restrictions imposed against a resurgent pandemic, sparking overnight riots in a Dutch city and a French island.
Europe is battling a fresh wave of infections and several countries have tightened curbs, with Austria on Friday announcing a nationwide partial lockdown — the most dramatic restrictions in Western Europe for months.
Other nations on the continent have resorted to less severe restrictions, often choosing to ban unvaccinated people from venues like restaurants and bars.
Some 35,000 came out to protest in Austria, thousands marched in Croatia’s capital Zagreb and there were smaller rallies in the Netherlands.
In Sydney, some 10,000 marched and there were protests in other major Australian cities against vaccine mandates applied to certain occupations by state authorities.
“In Australia where a fanatical cult runs our health bureaucracies, they say it’s ok (to vaccinate children),” right-wing politician Craig Kelly told the Sydney crowd to large cheers.
Violence marred protests on Friday in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam, where police fired warning shots as protesters set fires. Two people were hospitalised with bullet wounds.
There was arson and looting overnight in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, where a night curfew has been imposed.
Thousands gathered Saturday in central Vienna near the Chancellery, responding to a call by the far-right FPO party.
They held up banners decrying “Corona dictatorship” and slamming the “division of society”.
“It’s not normal that the government deprives us of our rights,” said 42-year-old teacher Katarina Gierscher, who travelled for six hours to get to the rally.
“The government wants to divide us. We must remain united.”
From Monday, 8.9 million Austrians will not be allowed to leave home except to go to work, shop for essentials and exercise. The restrictions will initially last 20 days with an evaluation after 10 days.
Vaccination against Covid-19 in the Alpine nation will be mandatory from February 1 next year.
Organisers cancelled a Dutch protest on Saturday but a few hundred people still gathered in Amsterdam and a similar number marched through the southern city of Breda.
The group that cancelled the Amsterdam rally said on Facebook it acted because “last night, all hell broke loose in Rotterdam.”
Dutch security minister Ferd Grapperhaus said: “The riots and extreme violence against police, riot police and firefighters last night in Rotterdam are horrifying.”
The French overseas territory of Guadeloupe was also volatile overnight. A police source told AFP, adding that live bullets had been fired at a police car.
Sport continues to face a turbulent time thanks to the pandemic. Germany has ordered next month’s Ski Jumping World Cup in Klingenthal to be held behind closed doors.
“We’re delighted to be able to get the lifts up and running again and to be able to do our job 100 percent,” rescue worker Emmanuel Laissus told AFP in the Val Thorens resort in the southeast.