Alarm in Germany as ‘corona demos’ take off

Above, a demonstrator wears a mask and a T-shirt with inscriptions reading ‘The mask has no healthy use’ during a protest against the coronavirus restrictions in Berlin on May 2, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 16 May 2020

Alarm in Germany as ‘corona demos’ take off

  • The protests have swelled in recent weeks to gatherings of thousands in major German cities

BERLIN: From anger over lockdown measures to a purported vaccine plan by Bill Gates: a growing wave of demonstrations in Germany by conspiracy theorists, extremists and anti-vaxxers has alarmed even Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Initially starting as a handful of protesters decrying tough restrictions on public life to halt transmission of the coronavirus, the protests have swelled in recent weeks to gatherings of thousands in major German cities.
Thousands are set to mass again in Stuttgart, Munich and Berlin on Saturday, with police out in force after some protests turned violent.
The growing demonstrations have sparked comparison to the anti-Muslim Pegida marches at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015, raising questions over whether the strong support that Merkel is currently enjoying due to her handling of the virus crisis could evaporate.
Just like it won popularity by fanning anti-migrant sentiment five years back, the far-right AfD party is now openly encouraging protesters and repositioning itself as an anti-lockdown party.
A recent poll commissioned by the Spiegel news magazine found that almost one in four Germans surveyed voiced “understanding” for the demonstrations.
The development has shocked the political establishment, with Merkel reportedly telling top brass of her center-right CDU party of the “worrying” trend that may bear some hallmarks of Russia’s disinformation campaigns.
Germany in March took unprecedented measures to shut down public life.
While a huge majority of Germans back the action, giving Merkel’s government a big boost in approval ratings, dissent is fomenting, particularly online where YouTube videos championing conspiracy theories or quack medical advice are attracting tens of thousands of views.
Seeking to counter absurd claims, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that although he wasn’t a medical practitioner, he could safely suggest that the “uncomfortable and cumbersome face mask is more to be recommended than a tin-foil hat.”
After a public outcry over unruly protests last weekend, the AfD placed itself squarely on the side of the demonstrators.
Party co-chief Alexander Gauland said it was “completely correct that people are exercising their fundamental rights and demonstrating against corona measures.”
Any resulting split in society over the demonstrations should not be blamed on the protesters, but on “the sweeping vilification of participants as right-wing extremists, nutcases or conspiracy theorists,” he charged.
Sometimes violent in nature, the demonstrations have also been increasingly tinged by anti-Semitism, as participants hold aloft slogans portraying figures like George Soros as the bogeyman in the virus crisis.
“I consider this type of protest to be extremely dangerous,” Felix Klein, the government’s pointman on tackling anti-Semitism, told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
“It undermines confidence in our democratic state and forms a reservoir in which conspiratorial anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers can be found alongside others with sometimes very obscure attitudes,” he added.


Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

Updated 12 July 2020

Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

  • Exercise being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory

HONG KONG: Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers turned up over the weekend to vote in an unofficial two-day primary election held by the city’s pro-democracy camp as it gears up to field candidates for an upcoming legislative poll.
The exercise is being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory in a move widely seen as chipping away at the “one country, two systems” framework under which Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997. It was passed in response to last year’s massive protests calling for greater democracy and more police accountability.
Throngs of people lined up at polling booths in the summer heat to cast their vote despite a warning by Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs minister, Eric Tsang last week that the primaries could be in breach of the new national security law, because it outlaws interference and disruption of duties by the local government.
Organizers have dismissed the comments, saying they just want to hold the government accountable by gaining a majority in the legislature.
The legislation prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs. Under the law, police now have sweeping powers to conduct searches without warrants and order Internet service providers and platforms to remove messages deemed to be in violation of the legislation.
On Friday, police raided the office of the Public Opinion Research Institute, a co-organizer of the primary elections. The computer system was suspected of being hacked, causing a data leak, police said in a statement, and an investigation is ongoing.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, which includes multiple parties, is attempting to join forces and use the primaries as a guide to field the best candidates in the official legislative election in September. Its goal is to win a majority in the legislature, which is typically skewed toward the pro-Beijing camp.
To hold the primary elections, pro-democracy activists had raised money via crowd funding. They pledged to veto the government’s budget if they clinch a majority in the legislature. Under the Basic Law, under which Hong Kong is governed, city leader Carrie Lam must resign if an important bill such as the budget is vetoed twice.
On Saturday alone, nearly 230,000 people voted at polling booths set up across the city, exceeding organizers’ estimates of a 170,000 turnout over the weekend.