Police fire water cannon to disperse Berlin anti-shutdown protest

Berlin: Police on Wednesday fired water cannon to disperse thousands of unmasked protesters who had massed in central Berlin to demonstrate against government measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

After repeated warnings for the crowd to put on their nose-and-mouth coverings went unheeded, police said they would take action to clear the protest and "detain violators".

As water was sprayed on the crowd, protesters chanted "shame, shame", refusing to leave the site.

Around 5,000 radical activists massed at the Brandenburg Gate, after the German government banned rallies outside parliament over police warnings the demonstration could turn violent.

Protest organisers accused the government of trying to establish a "dictatorship" with shutdown measures that were tightened this month to slow infection rates.

Demonstrators carried posters showing German political leaders including Chancellor Angela Merkel in prison garb and emblazoned with the word "guilty".

In online chatrooms, militant activists compared the government measures to the Enabling Act of 1933 which gave Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's government dictatorial powers.

The provocative comments drew outrage, with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeting: "Those who make such disgraceful comparisons mock the victims of National Socialism and show they have learned nothing from history."

MPs were set to grant state governments formal powers to limit social contact to help halt the spread of the virus, putting the shutdown measures on a firmer legal footing. – AFP �/