Anti-vaccination protesters affiliated with a far-right Romanian parliamentary party have tried to force their way into the legislature building in Bucharest, blocking traffic and vandalizing vehicles, including a car belonging to the U.S. Embassy.
An estimated 2,500 people gathered outside parliament on December 21 waving Romanian flags and chanting "Freedom," in a protest organized by the opposition Alliance for Uniting Romanians (AUR) party.
The protesters, whose march had been announced days in advance, were attempting to prevent lawmakers from making a COVID-19 health pass mandatory for workers.
Police guarding the sprawling Parliament Palace -- one of the largest buildings in the world -- appeared to be caught off-guard when hundreds of protesters poured in through a gate while others climbed over the fence, spray-painting parked vehicles.
The U.S. Embassy confirmed that one of its vehicles was damaged in the mayhem.
Police blocked the building's entryways, preventing protesters, who came from across the country, from entering the building, but they did not use force. The protesters later left, with some 700 marching toward government headquarters.
Amid a lackluster vaccination campaign, EU member Romania faced a deadliest surge of coronavirus infections and deaths through October and November, with tens of thousands of daily infections and hundreds of deaths.
Romania's coalition government is discussing legislation that would require employees to have a green certificate -- proof of full vaccination, having recovered from COVID-19, or a negative test.
Only 40 percent of Romania's 19 million people, or 7.7 million people, have received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine, and 2 million of those also received the booster dose that is considered necessary to combat the Omicron variant.
In a live online video from the protest, AUR co-Chairman George Simion urged people to "stand with us today to block the green certificate" and called the bill "unconstitutional."
"Side with AUR, side with the people who are right-headed -- who want justice," Simion said.
The commander of the Bucharest riot police told the media many protesters entered the premises in vehicles belonging to AUR lawmakers, who have a free pass.
AUR is a newly formed far-right party that acceded to parliament in December 2020 and currently has 43 lawmakers.
Hundreds of thousands of Romanians have been pouring into the country for the winter vacation, many of them unvaccinated, causing huge bottlenecks at western border crossings and prompting the authorities on December 20 to implement passenger location forms to improve the traceability of infections.