BERLIN (AP) — Thousands of people protested in Berlin on Saturday to condemn Germany’s supply of arms to Ukraine and call for peace talks to end the war.
The organizers were criticized before the protest for downplaying Ukraine’s right to defend its territory from Russian aggression and failing to distance themselves from political extremists on the far right and far left, where pro-Russia views are common.
One of the organizers, opposition lawmaker Sahra Wagenknecht of the ex-communist Left party, said during the rally that there was no place for neo-Nazis, but that anyone who wanted peace “with an honest heart” was welcome.
While most placards at the protest reflected traditional left-wing positions, some participants bore banners with the slogan “Americans go home” and the logo of a far-right magazine. Some waved Russian flags.
Wagenknecht accused the German government of seeking to “ruin Russia,” and said that Moscow should be made an “offer” in order to resume peace talks.
Another of the organizers, prominent feminist author Alice Schwarzer, said it was time to look beyond left and right. Protesters jeered whenever she and Wagenknecht mentioned the name of German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who has strongly backed the delivery of arms to Ukraine.
Police said that about 13,000 people took part in the rally at Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, while organizers claimed that 50,000 people participated.
One of them was Konstantin Schneider, an academic from Berlin, who said he understood that countries in Eastern Europe were afraid of Russia.
“Of course (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is an idiot to attack Ukraine,” he said. “But we still need to find new solutions (to the war) instead of sweepingly saying there’s nothing to negotiate.”
There were several small counterdemonstrations. On Friday, about 10,000 people staged a protest at the same site in support of Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a recent television interview that he doesn’t see a prospect for peace talks at present.
“We need to understand that the Russian president currently accepts only one form of negotiations, which is that (Ukraine) capitulates unconditionally and he achieves all of his aims,” Scholz told public broadcaster ZDF.