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Explained: Why are there protests in Europe over new Covid-19 restrictions?

Europe protests: Several European governments began the new year by stepping up restrictions on movement amid concerns over a more contagious variants of the coronavirus.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: January 30, 2021 10:58:56 am
A COVID-19 testing center is seen after being set on fire in Urk, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Amsterdam, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (Pro News via AP)

Over the weekend, protests against Covid-19 lockdowns rocked the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain, just as several European governments began the new year by stepping up restrictions on movement amid concerns over more contagious variants of the coronavirus.

The Netherlands

On Saturday, Netherlands began its first nighttime curfew of the pandemic, said to be the country’s first since World War II. Bars and restaurants have remained closed since October, and schools and non-essential shops closed in December.

Under the curfew rules, which are scheduled to continue till at least February 9, no one is allowed to leave home between 9 PM to 4:30 AM, with violators risking a fine of 95 euros.

Saturday evening, protesters set afire a Covid-19 testing centre in the northern fishing town of Urk, and many hurled stones and fireworks at the police. Danish health minister Hugo de Jonge described the incident as going “beyond all limits”, and local municipal officials called it “not only unacceptable but also a slap in the face, especially for the local health authority staff who do all they can at the test center to help people from Urk”.

The next day, demonstrators gathered in the southern city of Eindhoven in defiance of the curfew, resulting in clashes with police. Some agitators smashed windows, threw fireworks, set ablaze cars and robbed supermarkets, and the police resorted to using tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protests.

The capital Amsterdam also witnessed protests, this Sunday being the second in a row. Here, protesters took part in a banned demonstration at the central Museum Square, and video images showed a police water cannon spraying people grouped against a wall of the Van Gogh Museum, an Associated Press report said.

Dutch police said that they fined 3,600 people across the country and arrested 25 on Saturday night. The protests are also believed to have been spurred by the recently exposed child subsidies scandal that has led to the collapse of the Dutch government. A DW report with elections slated in March, the “political debate is heating up” and there is “more restlessness and people are disappointed that things are taking very long, that the coronavirus is not going away and that the Netherlands is doing very badly with vaccines.”

Denmark

On Saturday, protests against Denmark’s lockdown restrictions turned violent, and an effigy of Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was set on fire. Five people were arrested, according to The Local Denmark.

The group Men in Black holds a demonstration in Copenhagen, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (AP)

Over 1000 gathered in capital Copenhagen to take part in the protest organised by a group calling itself “Men in Black”. “Freedom for Denmark” and “we have had enough” were some of the slogans chanted.

The life-size doll representing Frederiksen, which was burnt, hung a sign from the neck saying ‘She must and should be killed’, inviting condemnation from across the political spectrum. Copenhagen Police said on Sunday that it was investigating the incident and could make further arrests.

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Spain

Protests rocked capital Madrid on Saturday as 1,300 gathered at the city centre, leading police to fine 216 people with penalties of up to 700 euros, El País reported.

People take part during a protest in support of coronavirus deniers and against restrictions by the government in downtown Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (AP)

Among the slogans raised were “we want to breathe”, and “Illa, Illa, Illa, masks away”, referring to the Spanish health minister Salvador Illa, and banners read “they aren’t letting us work”, “plandemic” and “Covid 1984”.

The march, which was organised by a group called “Conscious and Free Humans Collective”, took place even as cases in the Madrid region have tripled in the last 30 days, with hospitals receiving more than twice the number of patients and ICUs working at 129% of their capacity, the El País report said.

Interpreting the anger

Writing in World Politics Review, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace experts Thomas Carothers and Benjamin Press have categorised the anti-lockdown protests seen in several parts of the world in recent months into three types.

The first are libertarian “pro-citizen” movements which have occurred primarily in developed countries of the West, where participants have taken issue with governments restricting their personal freedoms. These attract large crowds– an example being the August 29 protest in Germany, when 38,000 protested in front of the national parliament in Berlin.

The second type is seen taking place in developing economies with large informal sectors, where agitators target the impact of lockdowns on their livelihoods. Such protests were seen in Mexico, South Africa and Belgium, where hospitality and retail workers protested against limitations on in-person activities, Carothers and Press write.

The third kind of protests are those objecting to how the lockdown restrictions are being enforced, accusing authorities of acting arbitrarily or of using excessive force. In China’s Xinjiang province, home to the persecuted Uighur ethnic minority, there have been online protests in which social media users have described the allegedly cruel measures imposed during the lockdown.

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