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Serbian president backtracks on coronavirus curfew after riots

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Wednesday backtracked on a promise that Belgrade will be under a weekend curfew because of the city's worsening coronavirus outbreak and said other measures will be imposed instead.

Belgrade, 8 July 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Wednesday backtracked on a promise that Belgrade will be under a weekend curfew because of the city’s worsening coronavirus outbreak and said other measures will be imposed instead.

“Facing the situation, I thought that a curfew was necessary and that a ban on movement and contacts was the only rescue and a path to swift healing,” he said in a televised address to the nation.

Vucic cautioned that a final decision would be made on Thursday.

A day earlier, his announcement that there will be a curfew from Friday evening until Monday morning sparked protests in Belgrade that spiralled into hours of violence.

The initially peaceful protest against the measures turned violent when a group of protesters barged into the Serbian parliament building. Police managed to push them out, but were then pelted with bottles and rocks.

Dressed in full riot gear, police repeatedly fired tear gas and threw flash grenades to keep the crowd away from the parliament entrance. The fighting lasted several hours.

In the end, well after midnight, mounted police were sent in to disperse the crowd, but not before three police vehicles were set on fire and burned. Police said that 43 officers were injured.

On Wednesday, Vucic accused members of far-right organizations and unnamed foreign intelligence services for the violence. “There is no doubt they want to weaken Serbia. We have proof that foreign services were involved,” he said without further elaboration.

Protesters said they were outraged with the return of restrictions two months after they were lifted. In the meantime, the authorities have also allowed football and tennis matches.

Elections, postponed from April because of the pandemic, were also held on June 21. Vucic’s Progressive Party claimed 188 of the 250 seats amid an opposition boycott over the electoral framework.

The restrictions were lifted as the daily number of new Covid-19 patients had dropped to the low double digits.

But the infection rate began growing rapidly over the past two weeks, and recent numbers have hovered between around 250 and 350, with a rising death toll.

On Wednesday, the figure was 357, with 11 deaths, making the day one of the worst since the pandemic began.

Vucic said earlier that the situation was particularly critical in Belgrade and that all hospitals in the capital were full.

In order to deal with the pressure, Serbian authorities designated several hospitals solely for Covid-19 patients and re-opened provisional centres to treat those with mild symptoms.

The planned weekend curfew, from Friday evening until Monday morning, would have been the first since early May, when Serbians spent more than three days locked in their homes, on top of regular nightly curfews.

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