Thousands of people were gathering on Saturday to protest against preventive measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus in the central German city of Stuttgart, where police said the majority failed to follow health regulations.
“We advise participants to comply,” police said in a tweet.
They said they had deployed helicopters to monitor the events, adding that violations of mask-wearing and social-distancing rules would be documented.
“I see 20 people wearing masks, and they are the police,” said police spokesman Stefan Keilbach in response to a question.
The police were stationed throughout the city for the course of the day, as a series of up to 10 rallies was planned.
Meanwhile, there was a festive atmosphere on the Marienplatz square, according to a dpa photographer.
Several hundred officers were policing the demonstrations.
A police spokesman said he expected there would be many violations of the regulations.
City representatives said they would call off the events if people failed to follow the health guidelines. Stuttgart city spokesperson Sven Matis said officials were monitoring the situation closely.
Alongside several smaller rallies, thousands of people gathered ahead of a rally planned for 4 pm (1400 GMT) of the so-called Querdenken (Lateral Thinking) movement, which is made up of Covid-19 deniers, right-wing activists and anti-vaccination campaigners.
Some 2,500 people were expected to attend an event at the Cannstatter Wasen festival area on the banks of the Neckar river.
The Querdenken rally organizers said there were 6,000 people there.
The Querdenken movement is currently subject to monitoring by the domestic intelligence service, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, for the state of Baden Wuerttemberg, of which Stuttgart is the capital.
Meanwhile counter-demonstrators sought to block the rally.
Police said their faces were covered, and they sat in the road or on bikes, blocking the route. Police said they would carry them away if necessary in order to free up the road.
In the past there have occasionally been violent clashes involving opponents to the health regulations imposed due to the pandemic, most recently in Kassel, where more than 20,000 people attended an event at which only 6,000 were permitted.
Ahead of the event, state officials expressed significant concern about events organized by people who deny the existence of the pandemic.
On Friday, state ministry director Uwe Lahl said the current laws would have allowed the demonstrations to be banned and predicted that few attendees would follow the health regulations.
STUTTGARD – dpa