Around 10,000 anti-lockdown demonstrators descended on Vienna on Sunday. While the protests began peacefully, they eventually turned violent – with some demonstrators attempting to storm the Austrian Parliament.
The protesters’ attempts on the parliament, which is currently closed for renovations, were thwarted by police, Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper reports.
Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer thanked police for their efforts amid the “emergence of a devastating situation”.
In total, 11 arrests were made during the protests while a further 1,766 citations were issued – including 850 breaches of coronavirus measures.
Nehammer said the violence was led by hooligans and right-wing radicals, including a number of well known identities.
One of those arrested was ‘coronavirus skeptic leader’ Mark Rutter, who had tried to injure police officers, Austrian media reported on Monday.
Four police officers were injured in the scuffles.
The protest, along with 14 other rallies planned for Saturday, was not given approval by Austrian authorities due to the participants’ disregard for mask wearing, social distancing and other coronavirus measures.
'Neo-nazi militants and thugs'
AFP reported on Sunday that the march was organised by the far-right FPÖ party, and many participants ignored government regulations on mask wearing and the respect for minimum distances from each other.
Neo-nazi militants and thugs were reportedly among the crowd, which refused to disband and blocked traffic as it began to march towards the national parliament.
Police then intervened and detained some protestors.
It was the first time that the FPÖ, and member Herbert Kickl who is a former interior minister, officially called for a protest against the third Austrian lockdown.
“We are seeing unprecedented censure,” Kickl told media Saturday, before the party put in a second request for a rally permit which was also refused.
The reason for the refusal was given as a risk of increased transmission rates of new variants, and a “lack of contact traceability” among those who were to take part in the march.
Austrian schools, sports clubs, hotels, restaurants, cultural venues and many stores have been shut to stem the spread of Covid-19, but the country's iconic ski resorts have been allowed to remain open.