Police in Belgrade have reportedly dispersed the bulk of the 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.
Fireworks explode while mounted police disperse a crowd as they protest the government’s #COVID19 lockdown in #Belgrade, Serbia. pic.twitter.com/UU8BkArJzuDemonstrators 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.
— RT (@RT_com) July 8, 2020
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.
Belgrade riots: Police brutally beats a guy that’s already on the floor. pic.twitter.com/jJJH3EtHz2
— Sergej Dojcinovic (@Serdjosega) July 8, 2020
Speaking after the first night of protests, 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.
ALSO ON RT.COMBelgrade protests not about Covid-19 lockdown, hijacked by rightwing radicals – Serbia’s presidentSome 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.
— nova.rs (@novarsonline) July 8, 2020
Local media showed photos of demonstrators carrying a cross and waving all manner of Serbian flags, including the one dedicated to Kosovo, a breakaway province run by NATO and ethnic Albanians since the 1999 war. Vucic is supposed to meet with French and German leaders later this week to arrange negotiations with the ethnic Albanian leadership, and many of the protesters accuse him of “treason” for allegedly planning to recognize their secession.
Some of the hand-made signs carried by protesters did feature the “Otpor fist” that became notorious in 2000, but also said “This is for you, dad” – quoting a young man who told reporters on Tuesday that his father had died of Covid-19 because there weren’t enough ventilators.
— vladaovdevlada (@vladaovdevlada) July 8, 2020
Vucic has disputed that claim, but insisted that a new lockdown may be necessary because the number of both new cases and deaths from the coronavirus has spiked and hospitals are reaching full capacity.
In addition to Belgrade, there were reports of protests in Nis and Novi Sad as well.