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German SPD leader can call anti-lockdown protesters 'Covidiots': prosecutors

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Anti-lockdown protesters and face-mask refusers can be called “Covidiots”, German prosecutors said on Wednesday, dismissing legal complaints against Social Democrat co-leader Saskia Esken who used the term on Twitter.

Prosecutors in Berlin, who had received hundreds of complaints accusing Esken of slander, said she was exercising her constitutional right to express her opinion. Esken’s SPD party is the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative-led ruling coalition.

In an Aug. 1 tweet, Esken said protesters at a Berlin march threatened the health of others by violating social distancing rules and ignoring requirements to wear face masks.

“The pointed term ‘Covidiot’ is, as an expression of opinion in the political discourse in the coronavirus pandemic, not liable for prosecution and is covered by the constitutionally protected freedom of speech,” prosecutors said.

Germany has seen mass protests in the past few weeks against curbs imposed by authorities to contain the spread of the new coronavirus and so limit the damage caused by COVID-19.

The marches have attracted a mixed crowd of civil rights activists and people who oppose vaccinations, as well as neo-Nazis and members of far-right groups including the opposition party Alternative for Germany (AfD).

On Saturday, Berlin police broke up a mass protest against coronavirus curbs and arrested 300 people after demonstrators failed to keep their distance and wear masks as instructed.

During the protest, a crowd stormed the steps of the Reichstag parliament building and waved far-right flags, which was condemned by SPD Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and other leading politicians.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber, Editing by Catherine Evans

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