Serbia’s president denounced violent protests against a proposal to reinstate one of Europe’s strictest lockdown protocols and pledged to restore order as he flew to Paris ahead of European Union-brokered talks on mending ties with Kosovo.
Dozens of people have been hurt over two days of clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators in the biggest outbreak of violence against President Aleksandar Vucic since he came to power in 2014. Fresh off of his ruling Progressive Party’s landslide win in June 21 elections, he accused unspecified domestic and foreign “opponents” of trying to weaken his position ahead of the talks.
While authorities say the violence was instigated by right-wing hardliners, anger over the plan to reimpose a weekend curfew Vucic said is needed to halt a resurgence in Covid-19 cases has brought thousands of supporters of other opposition groups into the streets.
He backtracked. But the
rallies continued, reflecting widespread public anger that manifested itself in anti-government demonstrations before the elections and prompted
opposition parties to boycott the vote.
“We know how to protect peace and stability against the criminal hooliganism and violent attacks that shocked us all,” Vucic said in a video message aboard the flight to Paris. He called for restraint after running battles between riot police and protesters who briefly broke into Serbia’s parliament building in Belgrade.
He was expected to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday before taking part in a video conference with him, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU representatives on Friday, in preparation for talks with Kosovo’s top officials in Brussels on Sunday. The EU-brokered dialog aims to mend ties between the Balkan foes that were at war two decades ago and need to end their dispute to qualify for membership in the world’s biggest trading bloc.
But the government’s response to the protests has also drawn criticism. The EU’s top human rights official sounded off after videos posted on social media showed Belgrade riot officers using tear gas to disperse crowds and beating protesters with batons.