Sat, 08 Aug 2020

Several thousand people gathered in front of the Serbian parliament building in Belgrade on July 11 for a fifth consecutive night of anti-government protests that started over the government's plans to reintroduce a coronavirus lockdown.

Protesters, most of whom wore masks, walked in front of the parliament building, occasionally calling for President Aleksandar Vucic to step down.

Unlike protests in the night before, it remained peaceful, with protesters saying they want authorities to inform the public about everything that has happened in connection with the coronavirus epidemic.

Similar peaceful protests were held in other Serbian cities, including Novi Sad, where demonstrators on July 10 temporarily blocked a highway leading to Belgrade.

The demonstrations were initially driven by frustration over measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus but evolved into anti-government rallies that demanded Vucic's resignation.

Riot police broke up the protest on July 10 using tear gas and chasing demonstrators through the streets. Angry protesters had thrown bottles, firecrackers, and stones at police as they attempted to reach the parliament building in Belgrade but were pushed back.

Vucic said 'thugs' had caused the incidents and vowed that they would be arrested.

Serbian police said on July 11 that they had detained 71 people after the clashes the night before. Police director Vladimir Rebic said 14 policemen had been injured in the rioting.

Critics say the government's decisions to allow soccer matches, religious festivities, parties, and private gatherings to resume in May and parliamentary elections to go ahead on June 21 are to blame for a surge in infections.

The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 18,000 people in Serbia and killed 382, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Some Serbs have accused the government of playing down the outbreak in order to allow the elections to proceed. Vucic's ruling Serbian Progressive Party swept those elections, which were tarnished by an opposition boycott.

Vucic has dismissed those claims and has warned people not to protest because they could spread the coronavirus.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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