BELGRADE (dpa-AFX) – The inconsistent policy of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to fight the corona pandemic triggered riots in the center of the capital Belgrade for the second time in a row on Wednesday evening. As in the previous evening, there were street battles between demonstrators and riot police. Nineteen officers and 17 demonstrators were injured, the N1 television station reported, citing hospital doctors.
Thousands protested possible new restrictions on everyday life that Vucic had announced due to the increasing number of infections. The head of state had withdrawn his announcement on Tuesday that he would curfew for the entire coming weekend the next day. Demonstrations against Vucic with thousands of participants also took place for the first time on Wednesday evening in other major Serbian cities, such as Novi Sad, Nis and Kragujevac.
In Belgrade, thousands of people demonstrated peacefully on Wednesday evening, the media reported. However, a smaller group of militant demonstrators segregated and sought conflict with the police. They threw stones and fireworks at the police, who drove the crowd apart with tear gas and batons. TV channels showed live images of chaotic scenes. The smell of tear gas persisted in the streets of the city center for hours. The situation was calm again on Thursday morning.
On Tuesday evening, the first day of the protest, the militants even briefly entered the parliament building in front of which the people had demonstrated. The police then also drove them from there using tear gas and batons.
The government is trying to portray the protests as a “coup attempt” and as a result of the alleged voluntary work by foreign powers not specified. “All of this can only be described as naked violence aimed at taking power,” Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said on Thursday night.
In fact, the protests are directed against President Vucic’s inconsistent and contradictory policies to combat the corona pandemic. From mid-March to early May, he had imposed a state of emergency that included extensive curfews and draconian penalties for violations of bans on movement and quarantine requirements. The measures, which were much more urgent than in the neighboring countries of Croatia and Hungary, were unpopular, but led to a significant containment of the pandemic.
At the end of May, Vucic lifted the state of emergency and rescheduled the April 21 parliamentary elections, scheduled and postponed for June 21, which his ruling party SNS won under the boycott of most opposition forces. With the end of the state of emergency, all previous restrictions fell practically without transition. There was an election campaign in public places, football games in front of up to 20,000 spectators, and night-time dining was allowed to open again. For about two weeks now, an average of 300 people a day have been infected with the corona virus in Serbia. The capital Belgrade is particularly affected. Vucic had said on Tuesday that the hospitals had already reached their capacity limits.
The President announced Thursday that new anti-corona measures would be announced. He explicitly excluded a curfew as at the time of the state of emergency./bb/gm/DP/mis