Serbia Unrest: Government, Opposition Trade Blame for Protests Over Covid-19 Lockdown
By Staff, Agencies
Thousands of people gathered in the Serbian capital Belgrade and other major cities to protest the government’s intent to reimpose coronavirus lockdowns. Stones and teargas flew as they clashed with riot police long into the night.
Police in Belgrade have reportedly dispersed the bulk of demonstrators by midnight local time on Wednesday, after nearly five hours of standoffs and clashes with a crowd of mostly young men and women.
What started on Tuesday as a protest against the announced second round of Covid-19 lockdowns quickly turned into an attempt to storm the parliament and fights with the police.
Demonstrators used garbage bins and planters to set up barricades and blocked streetcar and vehicle traffic in downtown Belgrade for several hours, local media reported. The government responded with riot police, armored vehicles of the Gendarmerie, and horse cavalry sent to push back and disperse the crowd.
Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said 10 officers were injured on Wednesday, including one who broke both legs after being pushed down a flight of stairs. He added that police only used force when the protesters tried to “lynch” them, using fence posts, clubs, shovels, rocks, teargas canisters and even Molotov cocktails to attack the officers.
Meanwhile, videos shared by protesters on social media showed a group of riot police beating up a demonstrator curled up on the ground.
Speaking after the first night of protests, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic blamed the violence on “right-wing extremists” who took over when “decent citizens” angry with the coronavirus restrictions withdrew.
He also pointed the accusing finger at “all kinds of influence from foreign security services,” without elaborating.
Accusations of foreign meddling are a sore topic in Serbia, ever since the US-backed October 2000 “color revolution” that brought into power the ‘Democratic Opposition’ coalition. It went on to lose power to Vucic’s Progressive Party in 2012. The Democrats boycotted last month’s parliamentary election, claiming it would be stolen.
Some opposition leaders indeed tried to take over the protests on Tuesday; video showed former Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic getting booed and slapped upside the head when he tried to join the crowd outside the parliament.
On Wednesday, Democrats blamed “regime provocateurs” for that incident and organized a small protest themselves. However, when former President Boris Tadic attempted to join the main crowd, he was booed, insulted and chased off.