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. 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. 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 August 25.
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 neighbour, which declared independence a decade after the two sides fought a war.