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Serbia's Coronavirus Crisis Team To Meet After Second Night Of Clashes In Belgrade


Demonstrators clash with police officers in front of the parliament building in Belgrade.
Demonstrators clash with police officers in front of the parliament building in Belgrade.

BELGRADE -- Serbia’s coronavirus crisis team is due to meet on July 9 after a second night of clashes in Belgrade fueled by public anger over the government's coronavirus response.

Police used tear gas to disperse the protest, which lasted well after nightfall on July 8 outside the parliament building in the Serbian capital.

There was also a new flash point 90 kilometers away in Serbia's second-largest city, Novi Sad, where demonstrators tried to storm a building that houses the regional public broadcaster.

As the crowd marched in Novi Sad, some people hurled stones and other objects at the city hall building, where a fire broke out. Protesters also threw stones at the office of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS).

The demonstrations in Belgrade erupted on July 7 after President Aleksandar Vucic announced new mandatory distancing steps and his intention to impose a curfew.

Vucic of the SNS said on July 8 that he and other officials were considering scrapping the weekend curfew, and said a final decision on the lockdown was expected on July 9.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic called the protests the "most violent so far" and vowed there would be no violent coup nor anarchy in Serbia.

"Tomorrow, the Crisis Team [for measures against coronavirus] will meet and we will continue to fight against the virus and save health workers, and people's health, and we will win," Brnabic said in a statement published on the SNS website.

Belgrade Protesters Storm Serbian Parliament, Clash With Police
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WATCH: Belgrade Protesters Storm Serbian Parliament, Clash With Police

She spoke after hundreds of protesters gathered in Belgrade to signal frustration at the government's latest response to a resurgent coronavirus outbreak and the perceived politicization of the team leading efforts to stem the danger to public health in the Balkan state.

Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic called the protest illegal because it had not been registered and said it was only about violence, not state policy. He said 10 police officers had been injured on July 8, including one whose legs were broken when he was pushed down a flight of stairs.

Police Patrols

Stefanovic told a news conference late on July 8 that “naked violence” was taking place in the streets of Belgrade “without the will of the people and participation in elections."

Stefanovic also announced that strong police patrols would be set up in Belgrade and elsewhere, adding "the state will always be stronger than the perpetrators.”

The protest on July 7 turned violent when a group of protesters broke into the parliament building while others threw stones, bottles, and other projectiles at police, prompting officers to fire tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Police Director Vladimir Rebic said on July 8 that 43 police officers and 17 demonstrators were injured in the first night of unrest, and five police vehicles were set on fire.

Images showed police kicking individuals and beating them with batons.

Vucic said that police would be punished if they were found to have acted inappropriately.

Speaking to the country on July 8, Vucic called on Serbs to avoid protests because they threatened to worsen the COVID-19 epidemic, which has officially infected more than 17,000 people in Serbia, killing 341 of them.

The government has ramped up anti-pandemic measures amid a COVID-19 spike since rapidly reopening before June 21 elections won by Vucic and his ruling SNS allies.

The global coronavirus pandemic and the pathogen's arrival in Serbia in March prompted a strict lockdown that interrupted over a year of weekly anti-government demonstrations.

Those protests targeted Vucic's tightening grip on media and the levers of power amid a spate of attacks on journalists and other government critics in the Balkan country of around 7 million people.

As the demonstration got under way on July 8, opposition leader Janko Veselinovic said the crowd was demanding the release of those arrested during the protests in Belgrade on July 7 and the formation of a new government task force to cope with the public-health crisis, saying the current team had been "politicized."

Demonstrators have also said they want Serbian public broadcaster RTS to report objectively on the situation in the country.

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