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Hundreds protest against US virus rules amid spreading resentment

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Concord (United States) (AFP)

Hundreds of people demonstrated Saturday in cities across America against coronavirus-related stay-at-home rules -- with the explicit encouragement of President Donald Trump -- as resentment against prolonged confinement grew.

An estimated 400 people gathered under a cold rain in Concord, New Hampshire -- many on foot while others remained in their cars -- to send a message that extended quarantines were not necessary in a state with relatively few confirmed cases of COVID-19, an AFP photographer reported.

A similar rally outside Maryland's colonial-era statehouse in Annapolis drew around 200 protesters. And more than 250 people showed up in the Texas capital of Austin, as such protests continued to spread.

They drew encouragement in certain Democratic-led states from tweets by Trump -- who has said he favors a quick return to normal practices -- though protests have also taken place in Republican-led states like New Hampshire.

In Concord, demonstrators carried signs with slogans like "The numbers lie" or "Reopen New Hampshire."

Their common demand was that the stay-at-home order for the state of 1.3 million people be called off before its scheduled May 4 end date.

- 'Live Free or Die' -

Others, amid a sea of American flags, chanted the state's Revolutionary War-era slogan, "Live Free or Die."

Among the demonstrators were several armed men wearing face-covering hoods, the AFP journalist noted.

"People are very happy on a voluntary basis to do what's necessary," one demonstrator, 63-year-old Skip Murphy, told AFP by phone.

He added, however, that "the data does not support the egregious lockdown we are having in New Hampshire."

He said only the southeastern part of the state, near the Boston metropolitan area, had an elevated incidence of the disease, and he argued that the rest of the state, with far fewer cases, should be exempted from confinement orders.

As of Friday morning, New Hampshire had reported 1,287 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 37 deaths.

- 'Free country' -

"What about our constitutional rights?" Murphy said.

"All over the country, a lot of people are saying, 'We will do our part, but at the same time this is supposed to be a free country.'

"When that gets transgressed, people start to say, 'Wait a minute, this is wrong.'"

Most Americans -- by a two-to-one margin -- actually worry about virus restrictions being lifted too soon, not too late, a recent Pew survey found.

But demonstrators found encouragement Friday from the president himself, who in a series of tweets called to "LIBERATE" Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia -- all states with Democratic governors -- from stay-at-home orders.

Trump has repeatedly called for the earliest possible return to normality as virus-related closings have had a crushing impact on American workers and businesses.

But public health officials warn that too quick an easing of restrictions could allow a disastrous resurgence of the virus.

The largest protest against stay-at-home rules so far took place Wednesday in the Michigan capital of Lansing, where some 3,000 people demonstrated against confinement orders from Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Murphy said he had voted for Trump, but insisted his motives were not partisan. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu is a Republican, he noted.

"This has nothing to do with Trump or the Democrat and Republican governors," Murphy said.

"It is a case of one size not fitting all -- the lockdown should cease where it does not make sense."

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