Protests have been triggered across the world by citizens witnessing their government’s poor handling of the novel coronavirus afflicted lockdown with bleak healthcare and the diminishing economy. Recently, thousands of people took to the streets of Serbia to retaliate against the reintroduction of lockdown measures and the alleged rigged elections conducted mere weeks before the announcement.
Over seventy people were detained by the police in a brutal clash that occurred outside the Parliament building in the capital city of Belgrade. Peaceful protests later escalated into violent outbursts by alleged right-wing supporters or infiltrators hurling bottles, rocks, and flares at police guarding the Parliament building. Heavy mounted policemen and anti-terror squads reacted by physically abusing and allegedly assaulting peaceful protestors as well as passers-by. Tear gas and stun grenades were also used to disperse the crowd. Dozens of demonstrators and police were reported to be severely injured amidst the violent attacks.
“Serbian police have detained 71 people after clashes during the fourth night of anti-government protests that were initially sparked by the announcement of a new coronavirus lockdown,” said senior a police official.
The protests erupted following plans to reinstate the lockdown by President Aleksander Vučić, of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), and top healthcare officials, after noticing a spike in COVID-19 cases. President Vučić announced a ban on the gathering of over five people as well as a weekend-long curfew which wasn’t well-received by the Serbian citizens. Vučić scrapped the curfew plan and instead imposed a ban of social gathering up to ten people shortly after the initial days of protests.
Vučić abruptly lifted the lockdown restriction in May, allegedly claiming the country had successfully tackled the novel coronavirus. The government allowed Belgrade to host a football derby with 25,000 fans, tennis matches, religious festivities, parties, and private gatherings despite repeated warnings from experts of an unprecedented virus outbreak.
Protestors and opponents suspect the Vučić government eased the restrictions to deliberately hold the elections on June 21st, in which Vučić won 60.65 percent of votes and extending his rule by four more years.
Based on investigative reporting by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), the actual number of infected cases and deaths caused by COVID-19 has been fudged and under-reported by the Serbian government to entice participants for the election. BRIN announced on June 22nd that “according to internal Serbian government data, the total number of deaths was 632, which is 388 more than the officially announced number of 233 deaths.”
However, President Vučić denies the allegations and claims it to be a political tactic by the opponents to ignite violence against the government.
While opponents say the violence instigated by infiltrators in the demonstrations were government-controlled, particularly to mislead the cause of the protests, Vučić claims the “hooligans” were brought in by the opponents. Vučić told the pro-government Pink TV that all those who were attacking the “brave” policemen will be arrested.
In conversation with EuroNews, a protester said: “I want a fair government which is transparent and which isn’t putting everything on their citizens. We are blamed for everything, yet they held their meetings, they held their football matches, they held every big gathering here in Serbia yet we are the ones to blame. I’m sorry but no.”
Feature Image Via Euro Sports.