Wednesday December 08, 2021

Thousands rally against COVID curbs in Austria and Australia

Europe is battling a fresh wave of infections; several countries have tightened curbs, with Austria announcing a partial lockdown

November 20, 2021
— AFP/File
— AFP/File

VIENNA: Tens of thousands took to the streets in Austria and Australia Saturday as anger mounted over fresh COVID restrictions imposed against a resurgent pandemic, sparking overnight riots in a Dutch city and a French island.

Europe is battling a fresh wave of infections and several countries have tightened curbs, with Austria on Friday announcing a nationwide partial lockdown — the most dramatic restrictions in Western Europe for months.

Other nations on the continent have resorted to less severe restrictions, often choosing to ban unvaccinated people from venues like restaurants and bars.

Some 35,000 came out to protest in Austria, thousands marched in Croatia's capital Zagreb and there were smaller rallies in the Netherlands.

In Sydney, some 10,000 marched and there were protests in other major Australian cities against vaccine mandates applied to certain occupations by state authorities.

"In Australia where a fanatical cult runs our health bureaucracies, they say it´s ok (to vaccinate children)," right-wing politician Craig Kelly told the Sydney crowd to large cheers.

Violence marred protests on Friday in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam, where police fired warning shots as protesters set fires. Two people were hospitalised with bullet wounds.

There was arson and looting overnight in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, where a night curfew has been imposed.

Thousands gathered Saturday in central Vienna near the Chancellery, responding to a call by the far-right FPO party.

They held up banners decrying "Corona dictatorship" and slamming the "division of society".

"It's not normal that the government deprives us of our rights," said 42-year-old teacher Katarina Gierscher, who travelled for six hours to get to the rally.

"The government wants to divide us. We must remain united."

From Monday, 8.9 million Austrians will not be allowed to leave home except to go to work, shop for essentials and exercise. The restrictions will initially last 20 days with an evaluation after 10 days.

Vaccination against COVID-19 in the Alpine nation will be mandatory from February 1 next year.