European protests against Covid-19 curbs spread to Brussels3 min read

Europes protests against Covid-19 curbs spread to Brussels on Sunday when tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through the city centre in protests that later turned violent.</p>

Protests also broke out in Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Croatia over the weekend as European governments stepped up their efforts to curb a steep rise in infections that is putting pressure on healthcare systems across the continent and last week prompted the World Health Organization to express concern.

In Brusslels some 35,000 people took part in initially peaceful protests close to the EU headquarters. The demonstration later erupted into violence. Police deployed water cannon, tear gas and mounted officers in response to a group throwing projectiles.

Police made more than 40 arrests after several shops were broken into, and video on social media showed barricades on fire and police cars badly damaged. Three police officers were taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Belgium has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe but is reimposing restrictions as cases soar. The country’s most vaccinated province, West Flanders, has one of the highest infection rates in the country. Last week, the government expanded work-from-home rules and strengthened restrictions on the unvaccinated.

There was a second night of rioting in the Netherlands on Saturday over the introduction of new coronavirus restrictions. The disorder led to dozens of arrests across the country, with authorities deploying mounted police, dogs and water cannon in three provinces after protesters started fires and threw rocks and fireworks.

Austria, the Netherlands and Germany have experienced western Europe’s fastest increase in cases since the start of the month. Late last week Germany’s caseload hit a record high, with acting health minister Jens Spahn saying a full lockdown could not be ruled out.

Austria started a national lockdown on Monday, while further restrictions are also set to come into force in other European countries.

In Greece, unvaccinated people will not be allowed into indoor spaces, including restaurants, cinemas, museums and gyms. Vaccination certificates for the over-60s will only be valid for seven months, with people then required to get a “booster” shot to maintain validity.

In Slovakia, the country’s prime minister, Eduard Heger, announced a “lockdown for the unvaccinated” from Monday.

In the Netherlands, unrest was sparked by plans to restrict the use of the Covid pass to those who have either been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19. Previously, it also covered people with a negative test result. A ban on fireworks for New Year’s Eve celebrations also roused anger.

The new restrictions are expected to last for an initial three weeks.

Satuday’s unrest followed rioting in Rotterdam on Friday night when police opened fire on hundreds of protesters. Authorities defended the use of force, with the city’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, blaming the crowds for an “an orgy of violence”.

In Austria, thousands of people took to the streets of Vienna on Saturday night to protest against the national lockdown and plans to make vaccination mandatory. Police put the number of demonstrators at 40,000.

Austrians will be asked to work from home and non-essential shops will shut until at least December 12. The measures will be reviewed in 10 days.

“The atmosphere became heated among some groups of demonstrators and resulted in repeated clashes with police. In front of the palace gate [Heldenplatz] police were forced to use pepper spray against aggressive activists,” the police said in a statement. They said about 1,300 officers from across Austria were brought in to assist.

Thousands also marched in Zagreb, the Croatian capital, against new vaccination mandates for health workers.

In Italy, hundreds of people took to the streets in Rome to protest against the introduction of a “green pass” required to access venues, workplaces and public transport.

Additional reporting by Eleni Varvitsioti in Athens

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