Violence escalates in Serbia, Vucic backtracks from new lockdown plan

Violence erupted for the second day on Wednesday in Serbia during demonstrations in the capital Belgrade and others cities against the president’s handling of the country’s coronavirus outbreak.

A number of people were injured during clashes in front of the parliament that started peacefully but soon turned violent, fueling tensions in the Balkan country, which is battling a surge in virus infection cases. Police fired tear gas to disperse rock-throwing protesters in Belgrade.

Under apparent pressure from the protesters, the president Aleksandar Vucic backtracked on Wednesday on his new lockdown plans that were to take effect during the coming weekend, claiming the measure cannot be implemented without proclaiming a nationwide state of emergency. Vucic said that although he still supports the lockdown, “most probably, there will be no curfew." He said the government will decide on new measures that could include shortened hours for night clubs and penalties for those not wearing masks.

Vucic described the protests in Belgrade as “political” and linked them to the upcoming resumption of the European Union-mediated talks on normalizing ties with the former province of Kosovo, which is opposed by nationalists.

Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin said the latest protests amounted to an attempt to “humiliate and destroy the Serbian state.” “Fascists and bullies want to take power without elections,” Vulin told pro-government TV channel Pink.

The clashes on Wednesday came a day after protesters fought running battles with police in the capital and tried to enter the country’s parliament after Vucic announced that a weekend curfew would be reintroduced two months after it was first lifted. Clashes were also reported in the northern Serbian town of Novi Sad.

Opponents blame the autocratic Vucic for contributing to the spike in deaths and new cases after he lifted the previous lockdown measures. They say he did that to cement his grip on power after Serbia’s June 21 parliamentary election. He has denied those claims.

 

 

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