Austria braces for violence at mass protests over Covid measures.

Hundreds of people massed in the heart of Vienna on Saturday, blowing whistles and brandishing signs declaring their freedom in the Austrian capital a day after the country’s leaders announced a nationwide lockdown starting next week and a mandate for vaccines to protect against the coronavirus.

The police in Vienna said that 10 of 11 demonstrations registered for Saturday involved protests over the measures, which are aimed at halting the rampant surge of the coronavirus in the country of nearly nine million people, more than one-third of whom are not vaccinated.

The health authorities reported 15,809 new cases within 24 hours on Saturday, the latest record that is straining Austria’s health system.

Chants of “resistance” went up from the hundreds of people who had packed the streets and the gardens around the Heldenplatz in front of the former Hapsburg palace, at a demonstration promoted by the populist Freedom Party.

“We are all Austrians, regardless of whether we are vaccinated or not vaccinated,” Udo Landbauer, a regional party leader, told the crowd. “We have rights, and we will continue to be loud until we get our basic rights back.”

The Austrian police had urged people to avoid the demonstrations, and 1,300 officers secured the streets as helicopters monitored from above.

Several far-right groups had urged their supporters to travel to Vienna for the demonstrations, a move that raised concerns over possible violence.

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