“Cannot tolerate” violent protest: police minister

Interior security and police minister Henri Kox during a press conference on 5 December Photo: Screenshot

Interior security and police minister Henri Kox during a press conference on 5 December Photo: Screenshot

An investigation has been launched after a protest against coronavirus measures on Saturday turned violent, with a Christmas market stormed and the house of prime minister Xavier Bettel (DP) vandalised.

Police estimate that around 2,000 people gathered for a protest march against vaccination and pandemic measures. But the protest turned violent when a group broke down the barriers of the Christmas marked in Place de la Constitution. Several people also attempted to break into Luxembourg’s parliament.

“A boundary was overstepped that we cannot tolerate,” interior security minister Henri Kox (Déi Gréng) said during a press conference on Sunday morning, saying there is no right to incite hatred, to intimidate and harass others. “We cannot accept this radicalisation.”

An investigation is ongoing, he said, into the protest as well as the police operation. Police were alerted to the protest via social media as the demonstration had not officially been registered. The march split into smaller groups--going to the Kinnekswiss park, the Place de la Constitution, the Chamber of Deputies and the Gare and Bonnevoie areas.

Protesters threw eggs at the prime minister’s house in Bonnevoie as well as leaving scratch marks on a car parked outside. “The prime minister was safe at all times,” Kox said.

The government on 29 November announced that it would tighten the CovidCheck regime for leisure activities to a so-called 2G system, meaning only certificates of people vaccinated or recovered will be accepted. This largely excludes non-vaccinated people from public life as they will no longer be able to go to restaurants, the cinema, the gym and other public venues.

In addition, the 3G CovidCheck, including a negative test result, will become mandatory at the workplace from mid-January. Unvaccinated employees will have to get tested daily. The move prompted fears that people will lose their jobs, face sanction or lose income on testing.

Kox defended the rights to freedom of speech and protest but said that they have their limits. A loud minority of people protesting against the measures cannot keep society hostage, he said.

“We live in a free, democratic country, where everyone may say their opinion,” the prime minister said via Twitter. “But I cannot and will not accept what happened yesterday in the city.” Bettel said freedom of opinion doesn’t mean that you can intimidate families with small children, be aggressive towards those with other opinions or trivialise the Holocaust.

“As a prime minister it is my duty to guarantee the common good. In time of a pandemic that means that as a government we have to take decisions that not everyone will like,” he said, adding that laws are passed by parliament, respecting democratic procedures. “Democracy won’t be intimidated.”

Protesters wore stars of David, comparing their treatment to the Holocaust. Several banners also compared the government to a Nazi dictatorship. Police are also analysing whether right-wing groups from outside of Luxembourg had infiltrated the protest.

Luxembourg City temporarily closed the Christmas market after the barriers at Place de la Constitution were broken down and protesters climbed the base of the Gëlle Fra monument, waving banners.

Politicians from across the spectrum slammed the protest. Deputy prime minister François Bausch (Déi Gréng) on Twitter said what happened at the Christmas market and outside the premier’s house cannot be tolerated. The Christian democrat opposition (CSV) via Twitter said that the right to protest and freedom of speech stop where other people’s freedom is threatened, whether at home or by storming the Christmas market.

The Pirate Party’s Sven Clement said the protest had descended into a mob that is trying to intimidate people and no longer part of democratic debate.

Tom Jungen, secretary general of the LSAP, on Facebook said that the mob was not unlike the one witnessed in January in the US when the Capitol building was stormed. “This time it was ‘only’ eggs on the façade and some scratches on a car… what happens next time?”