COVID Protesters, Police Clash

Thousands in European capitals march against restrictions
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 23, 2022 11:35 AM CST
COVID Protesters, Police Clash
A protester walks down the street with a balloon reading, "Where is the debate" during a demonstration Sunday in Brussels against COVID-19 restrictions.   (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

(Newser) – Police fired water cannons and thick clouds of tear gas in Brussels on Sunday to disperse demonstrators protesting COVID-19 vaccinations and restrictions that aim to curb the fast-spreading omicron variant. The protest drew thousands of people, some traveling from France, Germany, and other countries, the AP reports, with demonstrators yelling "Liberty!" as they marched. Demonstrators also marched in Barcelona. The protests followed demonstrations by thousands in other European capitals on Saturday against vaccine passports and other requirements that governments have imposed as the omicron variant causes surging daily coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

In Brussels, white-helmeted riot officers repeatedly charged after protesters who ignored instructions to disperse. Police water cannon trucks fired powerful jets, and snaking trails of gas filled the air in the Belgian capital. A protest leader broadcasting over a loudspeaker yelled, “Come on people! Don't let them take away your rights” as police officers faced off against demonstrators who hurled projectiles and insults. Some protesters harassed a video team covering the march for the AP, pushing and threatening the journalists and damaging their video equipment.

In downtown Barcelona, protesters wore costumes and waved banners reading "It's not a pandemic, it's a dictatorship," as they marched against against restrictions imposed by both national and regional authorities to curb a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant. Participants included people rejecting vaccines and those who deny the existence or gravity of the virus that causes COVID-19. Few wore face masks, which are mandatory outdoors in Spain. Police said 1,100 people attended the demonstration. Nearly 92,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Spain during the pandemic. With over 80% of Spain's residents vaccinated, experts and authorities have credited the shots with saving lives and preventing the total collapse of its public health system.

(Read more protests stories.)

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