BELGRADE – Fallout from anti-lockdown protests

 Riot police forces dispersed demonstrators in Wednesday morning (8 July), ending the long, violent protest that began after Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić announced on Tuesday that Belgrade would possibly be under lockdown during the weekend in response to a growing number of COVID-19 infections in the capital.

The protest that began at around 6 pm was announced as a peaceful rally as the coalition Alliance for Serbia stated the reasons for protesting were because authorities had “bullied” people and because Serbia had announced a weekend curfew for the capital due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

The opposition rally, which attracted people of various political affiliations, began in front of the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade, after which they joined protesters who had already gathered in front of the Serbian parliament.

Of the leaders of the Alliance for Serbia, there was the president of the Freedom and Justice Party, Dragan Djilas, Miroslav Aleksic of the People’s Party, Janko Veselinovic of the Movement for Transformation. Also present were the leader of the People’s Party, Vuk Jeremic, and president of the Democratic Party Zoran Lutovac. Members of the right-wing Dveri (Doors) Movement, led by Bosko Obradovic, were also at the protest.

Around 8 pm, heavy police reinforcements – including armoured personnel carriers, Humvees, Gendarmes with riot gear and mounted police – arrived on the scene. While the police fired tear gas into the crowd, some protesters, most of them young, repeatedly pelted the police cordons with stones, bottles and flares. 

Clashes and skirmishes erupted in several locations in downtown Belgrade, but the heaviest were reported in a distance of a few hundred metres from the parliament, at the central post building, the Church of Saint Mark and the Faculty of law. 

According to various reports, several dozen people were wounded including Dveri leader Obradović, who was beaten by police, and the leader of the social-liberal Movement of free citizens (PSG), Sergej Trifunović, who was attacked by an unidentified group of younger men dressed in black.  

Protests also erupted in several other cities across the country.

Violence erupted in the capital of Vojvodina province, Novi Sad, where citizens took part in a peaceful protest march and then gathered in front of the Townhall on the Liberty Square.

A smaller group of demonstrators hurled rocks and flares at the town hall, and police countered with tear gas. 

At 10 pm, riot police stormed at demonstrators, pushed them back, beating and arresting people, and sealed off parts of the square in front of the Townhall. By 10:30 pm, a few hundred protesters returned to the square and peacefully sat down in front of the police cordon. 

Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic has stated earlier that the police possessed information about certain participants of the protest planning to induce “a certain unrest” after nightfall. 

Opposition leader Dragan Djilas has claimed that the authorities were planning to infiltrate groups of hooligans with the task of attacking opposition leaders and inciting violence. 

At around 11 pm, the situation in Belgrade was still tense and police continued to fire tear gas from a distance, trying to disperse the remaining, dominantly very young protesters. 

(Vladimir Tintor | EURACTIV.rs)

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