¨Large numbers of people have taken to the streets in European cities on Saturday to demonstrate in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, some defying restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The protests are the latest in a global wave of anger and revulsion at racism and police brutality, following the killing of black American George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
Thousands of people have gathered outside the UK Parliament in London to protest against racism, despite official warnings to stay away for fear of spreading COVID-19 infections. Many were wearing face masks but the density of the crowd appears to make it impossible to observe social distancing.
More rallies are taking place in other cities in the UK, in the wake of similar protests during the week. The British government urged people not to gather in large numbers and police have warned that mass demonstrations could be unlawful.
“We completely understand people’s desire to express their views and have that right to protest, but the fact of the matter is we are in a health pandemic,” Home Secretary (interior minister) Priti Patel told Sky News. “I’d say to those who want to protest, ‘please don’t’… We must put public health first at this particular time.”
Another large demonstration was getting underway in Paris, despite a police ban on the protest, the authorities citing the risk of spreading COVID-19 and fears of public unrest. The police decree noted that social distancing regulations ban gatherings of more than 10 people.
Preparing for the eventuality that protesters would ignore the ban, French police sealed off roads around the US Embassy early on Saturday.
A communique from the Prefecture noted that several calls had gone out on social media calling for demonstrations near the Eiffel Tower against “police violence”, despite a ban for public health reasons.
Crowds also began developing in other cities in France, including Lille and Lyon.
Many protesters in France draw a parallel between George Floyd’s death and that of Adama Traoré, a young black man who died in police custody in Persan, north of Paris, four years ago. Traoré’s family has repeatedly claimed police officers tackled him to the ground and that he died due to suffocation.
In Berlin, thousands were seen gathering in the city centre for a Black Lives Matter rally on Saturday afternoon. As elsewhere, protesters held up signs with slogans such as “No justice, no peace”. The scenes looked calm, though overnight on Friday police said several store windows were smashed and walls were painted with slogans referring to George Floyd’s death.
Thousands were said to be turning out for protests in other German cities such as Cologne and Dusseldorf on Saturday, as well as in smaller towns.
‘Black Lives Matter’ protests in Asia and Australia
The European protests follow other demonstrations in Asia and Australia on Saturday.
In Sydney, protesters won a last-minute appeal against a Friday ruling declaring their rally unauthorised. The New South Wales Court of Appeal gave the green light just 12 minutes before the rally was scheduled to start, meaning those taking part could not be arrested.
Up to 1,000 protesters had already gathered in the Town Hall area of downtown Sydney ahead of the decision.
In Brisbane, the Queensland state capital, organisers said about 30,000 people gathered. State Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch encouraged Queenslanders to speak out.
“Whether you’re talking about the US or right here in Australia, black lives matter,” she said. “Black lives matter today. Black lives matter every day.”
In South Korea’s capital, Seoul, protesters gathered for a second straight day to denounce Floyd’s death.
Wearing masks and black shirts, dozens of demonstrators marched through a commercial district amid a police escort, carrying signs such as “George Floyd Rest in Peace” and “Koreans for Black Lives Matter.”
In Tokyo, dozens of people gathered in a peaceful protest.
Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a white police officer pressed his knee into the man’s neck for several minutes during an arrest, ignoring his cries of distress.