German police have fired water cannons to disperse thousands of unmasked protesters who had gathered in central Berlin to demonstrate against government measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
After repeated warnings for the crowd to put on their nose-and-mouth coverings went unheeded, police said they would take action to clear the protest and 'detain violators'.
As water was sprayed on the crowd, protesters chanted 'shame, shame' and refused to leave the site.
Police in riot gear moved through the crowd carrying away some participants. Some demonstrators threw fireworks and flares in response as police helicopters hovered overhead.
Around 5,000 radical protesters massed at Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate, after the German government banned rallies outside parliament over police warnings the demonstration could turn violent.
Protest organisers accused the government of trying to establish a 'dictatorship' with shutdown measures that were tightened this month to slow infection rates.
Demonstrators carried posters showing German political leaders including Chancellor Angela Merkel in prison garb and emblazoned with the word 'guilty'.
Other placards read: 'We want our lives back' and 'Put banks under surveillance, not citizens.'
One demonstrator held a flag with a picture of outgoing US President Donald Trump and an image invoking the right-wing conspiracy group QAnon.
In online chatrooms, militant activists compared the government measures to the Enabling Act of 1933 which gave Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's government dictatorial powers, AFP news agency reported.
The provocative comments drew outrage, with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeting in response to the 'disgraceful comparisons': 'Everyone, naturally, has the right to criticise the measures, our democracy thrives through the exchange of different opinions.
'But whoever relativises or trivialises the Holocaust has learned nothing from our history.'
Wednesday's protests came as German lawmakers opened debate on a bill that will provide the legal underpinning for the government to issue social distancing rules, require masks in public and close stores and other venues to slow the spread of the virus.
While such measures are supported by most people in Germany, a vocal minority has staged regular rallies around the country arguing that the restrictions are unconstitutional.
The measures are expected to pass both the lower and then upper house of parliament and be quickly signed by Germany's president.
The demonstration was not the first aggressive action by anti-lockdown protesters in Germany.
In late August, several hundred aggressive demonstrators had already tried to storm the Reichstag building where the Bundestag lower house meets during a rally against coronavirus rules, in a protest Merkel condemned as 'shameful'.
The interior ministry said on Tuesday that it had been informed by security services that protesters intended to block access to the Reichstag and Bundesrat buildings, justifying the ban.
The Bundestag security force warned MPs that 'demonstrators from politically radical and even violent groups' were expected to take part in Wednesday's protests with 'attacks' possible.
Earlier this month, more than 20,000 people joined a violent demonstration in the eastern city of Leipzig against curbs to control coronavirus infection.
Most participants refused a police order to disperse after ignoring requests to wear face coverings and maintain a safe distance between participants.
Demonstrators attacked police and reporters, leading to 31 arrests.
Political officials said that neo-Nazi supporters and extremist conspiracy theorists had helped incite the riots.
Germany, which has been praised for its handling of the first wave of the virus, has recently seen a sharp uptick in numbers of new infections and is now midway through a second partial lockdown meant to try and slow the spread.
Under current measures, socialising is limited to a maximum of 10 people from two households.
Cinemas, theatres, gyms, restaurants and bars are closed, but schools, shops and hairdressers remain open.
The country recorded 14,419 new infections on Tuesday, bringing the total to around 844,000, while 267 people were added to the 13,138 to have died from the virus.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.