Thousands of protesters marched through Australia’s capital to the parliament building on Saturday to decree Covid-19 vaccine mandates, the latest in a string of rallies against pandemic restrictions around the world.
Demonstrators packed Canberra’s streets before massing outside the parliament, some waving the red Australian ensign flag associated with “sovereign citizens” who believe national laws do not apply to them.
Protesters, many with children, rallied under bright skies brandishing banners proclaiming “Fight for Your Freedom & Rights”, “Free Aus Freedom Now”, or “No forced drugs” written above a symbol of a syringe.
Police estimated there were up to 10,000 protesters. They were “generally well behaved”, a police said.
Three people were arrested including one man who drove his truck through a roadblock. Two others were taken into custody for a breach of the peace.
Australia says 94 percent of people aged over 16 have had at least two Covid-19 vaccinations.
Though getting the jab is voluntary, it is generally required for people entering the country and for those working in a range of professions deemed at particular risk such as caring for the elderly.
Some Australian states such as New South Wales have begun to relax proof-of-vaccine requirements for entry to pubs, restaurants or shops.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who must call a general election by mid-May, called on the protesters to act peacefully.
But the Australian leader also said he understood their concerns, and stressed that the states — not the federal government — were responsible for many of the vaccine requirements.
“My message to them today is Australia is a free country and they have a right to protest and I would ask them to do that in a peaceful way and a respectful way,” Morrison told reporters when asked about the rallies.
“Those who are protesting today are speaking up for the things that they feel strongly about.”
Morrison said he wanted to be “very clear” that the federal government had only supported mandates that relate to aged care workers, disability workers and those working in high-risk health situations.
“All other mandates that are related to vaccines have been imposed unilaterally by state governments,” the prime minister added. “So, I understand their concerns about these issues.”
Anti-vaccine mandate rallies have also swelled outside the New Zealand parliament in Wellington, where protesters and police faced each other under heavy rain on Saturday with no clashes.
Though the protests have been mostly peaceful, New Zealand police arrested 122 people and used pepper spray to quell scuffles on Thursday before taking a more hands-off approach in tackling the demonstrations.
World attention has been focused on Canadian truckers who have jammed a key bridge linking Canada and the United States, defying a judge’s order to leave Friday night.
Thousands of people were also driving towards Paris on Friday hoping to blockade the capital in protest at Covid vaccination rules in France.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)