70 arrested in Belgrade after protesters storm Serbian parliament

Scores of arrests were made after a group of violent demonstrators on Friday night again clashed with police in front of the Serbian parliament, and also attacked numerous reporters and anyone filming the scene.

The latest incident erupted when a group of young men, chanting patriotic slogans, pushed past the demonstrators who oppose violence, pushed the metal railing aside and barged through the undefended front door of the parliament building in Belgrade. Police deployed inside then pushed them back and established a cordon around the small platform in front. Then they endured around half an hour of bombardment from the attackers, who threw bottles, flares and rocks at them.

Several carried large slabs of concrete from elsewhere and hurled them at the police. Eventually, the attacks stopped, but the two groups remained nearly face to face.

Police had initially not fired a single round of tear gas throughout the altercations outside the building. But they used tear gas and truncheons in the end to put an end to the violence started by the group of young men described as "nationalists" or "hooligans." 

Police detained at least 70 people involved in the violence, according to local media reports. Several people were injured, the local newspaper Blic reported. The main demonstration remained peaceful throughout.

Friday night's was the third spate of violence in four nights of demonstrations in the Serbian capital this week. The protests started on Tuesday when President Aleksandar Vucic announced a long weekend curfew because of the deteriorating Covid-19 situation.

Only on Thursday no clashes occurred, but largely owing to resistance from the peaceful protesters. 

While police in riot gear stood in front of the parliament on the first two nights of the protests, they were inside and behind the building on Thursday and Friday. 

On the first two nights of protests, police virtually doused the entire central Belgrade with tear gas and threw flash grenades at the attackers.

Although the protests were initially directed against the return of restrictive epidemiological measures, they swiftly shifted focused on Vucic's autocratic rule.

On Friday, his meeting with the Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti in a teleconference with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel further fanned the rage. After the meeting, intended as a kick-start of stalled normalization talks, Vucic acknowledged that Serbia was alone in its bid to keep some sort of sovereignty over the mostly Albanian Kosovo.

The runaway province which most Serbs see as their heartland territory declared independence in 2008. Far-right politicians and extremist groups have been accusing Vucic of treason for negotiating with Kosovo Albanians.

Earlier on Friday, both Vucic and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic urged protesters to refrain from violence and to avoid the risk of further spreading Covid-19 and bringing the already overburdened health system down. Peaceful protests were also reported from other cities in Serbia, according to state television reports.

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