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Protesters gather as German lawmakers vote on lockdown rules

Protesters began gathering in central Berlin early Wednesday as lawmakers prepared to vote on a proposal by Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet that would mandate nationwide restrictions as an “emergency brake” when the coronavirus is spreading too quickly.

The proposal is intended to end the patchwork of measures that has characterized the pandemic response across Germany’s 16 states. It features plans for imposing a nighttime curfew, limiting personal contacts and closing stores, cultural venues and sports facilities.

The measures would kick in for areas where there are more than 100 weekly new cases per 100,000 residents. Germany's nationwide rate was slightly above 160 cases per 100,000 on Wednesday, according to the country's disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute.

Merkel has defended the plan as necessary to prevent the health care system from becoming overwhelmed, but state governments and others have found fault with it.

If it passes in the lower house of parliament, the proposal is expected to quickly move to the upper chamber, run by the states, for a vote on Thursday.

If it passes both houses, it would be implemented quickly and apply until the end of June.

Only 1,500 people were registered for two morning demonstrations, both around the landmark Brandenburg Gate, and another 1,000 for an afternoon protest planned for near the president's offices, according to police.

Still, with calls for opponents of lockdown measures from around the nation to come to the capital to demonstrate, authorities braced for large crowds.

About 2,200 police officers, many of them called in from other states, were on hand, and authorities established checkpoints and put up fencing around a wide section of the area where government buildings are located.