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Serbia: Nationwide anti-government protests continue amid coronavirus curbs

Countrywide protests against the restrictions enforced by the Serbian government to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic entered the fifth day on Saturday.

The protests which began on Tuesday evening in Belgrade after President Aleksandar Vucic announced the return of weekend curfew among other measures to combat the pandemic. The demonstrations have spread to other cities such including Nis, Kragujevac, and Novi Sad.

The National Assembly Building in the capital Belgrade has become the center of protest as a crowd holding placards gathered outside the building and raised slogans against the government. Many protesters sat there all through the night.




Some protesters in Nis blocked the highway between the capital Belgrade and Nis, the third-largest city in Serbia. The police prevented the blockade and stopped them to proceed towards the highway.

Another city, Novi Sad also saw a protest marches. The organizers said that there would be no protest in the city on Sunday. But people can join the protests in Belgrade. Krusevac, Cacak, Vranje, and Zrenjanin were also among the cities where protests were held.

On the first day of the protests, demonstrators clashed with police while attempting to enter the assembly building as paramilitary forces cordoned the entrance. The protesters were dispersed forces used massive force.



The police detained 71 people on Saturday. Serbian media reported that among the detained was a former parliament member and one of the leaders of the violent protesters, pro-Russian far-right politician Srdjan Nogo.

Authorities reported 12 new coronavirus deaths on Saturday and 354 new infections, although there have been increasing doubts about the accuracy of the official figures.

The country officially has over 18,000 confirmed infections and 382 deaths since March. Health authorities have warned that Serbian hospitals are almost full due to the latest surge in cases.

Trigger:

The protests began on Tuesday evening in Belgrade after President Aleksandar Vucic announced the return of weekend curfew among other measures to combat the pandemic.

Vucic later scraped the plan to impose the lockdown. Authorities instead banned gatherings of more than 10 people in Belgrade, the capital, and shortened the working hours of indoor businesses.

Many in Serbia accuse the increasingly authoritarian Vucic and his government of letting the virus crisis spin out of control in order to hold a parliamentary election on June 21 that tightened the ruling party’s grip on power.

Vucic has denied this, although authorities had relaxed the rules prior to the vote, allowing massive crowds at soccer games, tennis matches and nightclubs.




Vucic has blamed foreign citizens for the ongoing protests. While, many pro-government tabloids in Serbia have claimed Russian intelligence services behind the current unrest.