Belgrade, 9 July 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Serbian authorities on Thursday banned all public gatherings in Belgrade in a bid to reduce the novel coronavirus infection rate.
But the government did not impose a long weekend curfew as President Aleksandar Vucic promised on Tuesday, but then backtracked on a day later.
The promise sparked forceful protests in Belgrade on Tuesday, followed by even more violent scenes on the streets of Serbia on Wednesday evening.
Protesters said they were angered by the threat of a curfew, particularly as the authorities rapidly dismantled the restrictions eight weeks ago and last month allowed spectators to sports events.
On June 21, Serbia also held parliamentary elections which were boycotted by most of the opposition, its leaders saying that Vucic’s control over the media and the economy vastly tilted the playing field to the benefit of his Progressive Party (SNS).
The SNS won around four-fifths of the legislative seats.
During the protest on Tuesday, police and demonstrators clashed in Belgrade. On the second night, riots also occurred in Novi Sad, Nis and Kragujevac.
More protests were scheduled for Thursday. It was not immediately clear whether they will go ahead in spite of the ban on public gatherings.
Dozens of people were arrested and injured in the violence of the previous two nights.
The European Commission expresses concerns over the situation in Serbia.
“It is true that the developments in Serbia, which we have been following closely over the past two days, give cause for concern,” spokesperson Ana Pisonero told a news conference.
While it was up to the government to decide what measures are necessary to address the Covid-19 pandemic, she said, it must not disproportionately affect fundamental rights.
“This also applies, of course, to the right to peaceful protest. This is a fundamental right in a democratic society,” Pisonero added. “Any use of force must be measured and proportionate.”
Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said late Wednesday that police showed restraint until the officers came under potentially deadly threat, with protesters pelting them with flares, rocks and bottles.