Over 40,000 protesters against the Austrian government’s coronavirus policies took to the streets of Vienna on Saturday, according to the police estimates. Police reinforcements were brought in from other regions to the capital in anticipation of potential unrest, with a total of 27 rallies planned for Saturday, the majority of them against the vaccination mandate.
Minor clashes broke out between the demonstrators and police, resulting in several arrests. Police reported that anti-mandate protesters hurled flares at officers, and that pepper spray was deployed. Multiple protesters were also reportedly fined for not wearing face masks.
One popular slogan seen and heard during Saturday’s demonstrations equated mandatory vaccinations to “genocide” and the government to a “fascist dictatorship” for implementing the policy. The protesters decried the government’s push to make Covid vaccination mandatory for all citizens come February – a decision made on November 19 by former chancellor Alexander Schallenberg, who has since announced his resignation. His successor, Karl Nehammer, is expected to reaffirm the policy. In late November, then minister of interior Nehammer blamed “extremists” for fomenting anti-vaccination sentiment.
At least one counter-demonstration was held in central Vienna on Saturday. Some 1,500 left-wing activists turned out for the protest, marching under slogans such as: “Put on masks! Against Nazis, the state and capital!” while accusing the rival rally of being an assortment of right-wing extremists, anti-vaxxers and Covid-deniers.
A wave of similar demonstrations against the vaccination mandate have taken place across Austria in recent weeks. Some of the rallies drew tens of thousands of people.
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