German officials ban anti-lockdown protest near parliament

World News

FILE – In this Monday, Aug. 31, 2020 file photo crowd control barriers are placed in front of the Reichstag building, home of the German federal parliament (Bundestag), in Berlin, Germany. German security officials are considering banning protests this week outside the federal parliament by people opposed to coronavirus lockdown measures over fears a rally could turn violent. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, file)

BERLIN (AP) — German officials have cited security concerns in their decision to ban a series of protests planned Wednesday outside the federal parliament by people opposed to coronavirus lockdown measures.

The unusual move comes amid fears that extremist groups could try to use a rally initially planned for Wednesday to attack the Bundestag, echoing an unsuccessful attempt to storm the parliament building during a similar demonstration in August.

The Interior Ministry said Tuesday it had rejected 12 requests to hold rallies within a specially designated zone around parliament. Unlike elsewhere in Germany, protesters have to seek permission to stage demonstrations within the security perimeter surrounding certain federal buildings.

According to an email sent to German lawmakers Tuesday by a parliamentary security official, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, a risk assessment by Berlin state police “has given rise to the expectation … that attacks on the Bundestag building and on persons” were to be expected if the protest goes ahead.

Gatherings outside the special security perimeter around parliament are unaffected by the decision.

Lawmakers are due to vote Wednesday on a bill that will provide the legal underpinning for social distancing rules, requirements to wear masks in public and the closure of stores. While such measures, designed to stop the spread of COVID-19, are supported by most people in Germany, a vocal minority has staged regular rallies around the country arguing that the restrictions are unconstitutional.

A demonstration earlier this month in the eastern city of Leipzig ended in chaos when thousands of protesters defied police orders to wear masks and, later, to disperse. Some participants attacked police officers and journalists.

German lawmakers have in recent days been subjected to a flood of emails, apparently automatically generated by protesters, that have clogged inboxes and slowed IT systems to a crawl.

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