Violence in Serbia over plan to reimpose coronavirus curfew
Thousands of protesters clashed with police in Serbia’s capital after the president said he’d reinstate one of Europe’s strictest lockdown regimes to confront a spike in new cases of Covid-19 in the city.Updated: Jul 08, 2020, 19:33 IST
Thousands of protesters clashed with police in Serbia’s capital after the president said he’d reinstate one of Europe’s strictest lockdown regimes to confront a spike in new cases of Covid-19 in the city.
Riot police used tear gas to repel rock-throwing, mostly right-wing demonstrators who briefly broke into the parliament building in central Belgrade in the biggest outbreak of violence against President Aleksandar Vucic since he came to power in 2014. Seven protesters and 13 police were injured, according to police.
The crowd of about 5,000 smashed several shop windows and set five police cars on fire, while smaller groups rallied peacefully in the biggest northern city of Novi Sad and in the central city of Kragujevac. The government, led by Vucic’s dominant Serbian Progressive Party, denounced the violence.
“The state and all its institutions will preserve and protect our constitutional order,” Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said late Tuesday. She condemned opposition politicians “behind the violent charge into Serbia’s parliament at the moment when the state and the health system are facing the biggest onslaught of coronavirus since the pandemic began.”
The former Yugoslav republic of 7 million lifted its lockdown restrictions -- which included overnight and weekend curfews and banned inter-city travel -- in May along with the rest of Europe after the social-distancing restrictions helped stifle contagion.
However, a new surge in cases hit the country following June 21 elections, with the head of Serbia’s government office for Kosovo, the speaker of parliament and the defense minister all testing positive.
The protests have little chance of unseating Vucic’s party, which won a constitutional majority in the vote. At the news conference where he announced the renewed lockdown, he said a new government would be formed by Aug. 25.
‘Handful of Hooligans’
Protesters gathered at the parliament building shortly after the president spoke, demanding his resignation. Aside from opposing the plan for the new lockdown, they chanted “We don’t want migrants” and “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia,” the latter of which underscores the Balkan state’s dispute with its neighbor, which declared independence a decade after the two sides fought a war.
The violence was instigated by “just a handful of hooligans,” said Police Chief Vladimir Rebic, distinguishing them from peaceful protesters.
The new surge in infections is overwhelming the national health-care system, and Serbia will quickly build a new hospital with 800 to 1,000 beds, Vucic said.
“The situation in Belgrade is alarming,” he told a televised news conference late Tuesday. “Hospitals are literally packed.”
Four other Serbian cities are also strongly affected, with 13 new deaths from coronavirus on Tuesday, the country’s highest daily death toll since the pandemic began. Some 330 have died from Covid-19.
There’s also the risk that the disease will persist into the winter, when it may coincide with the seasonal flu, Vucic said.
“We’ll be facing a difficult autumn with the coronavirus,” he said. “There won’t be a vaccine by then.”