Serbia bans mass gatherings after virus lockdown protests

Serbia bans mass gatherings after virus lockdown protests

Serbia bans mass gatherings after virus lockdown protests

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbian authorities on Thursday banned gatherings of more than 10 people in the capital, Belgrade, after two nights of violent clashes between police and thousands of demonstrators protesting coronavirus lockdown measures.

Thousands of people defied the ban Thursday night to stage a sit down protest in front of Parliament, but that gathering and others in at least two other Serbian towns remained peaceful despite a large police presence.

Many protesters wore white T-shirts with the inscription, “Sit Down, Don’t Be Set Up” — referring to widespread claims that the violence in the previous nights’ protests was staged by hooligan groups close to the authorities to smear the opposition groups’ image.

“This is how the protest should really look like, without their mad dogs present,” said one of the main opposition leaders, Dragan Djilas.

Serbia’s government crisis team said the restrictions imposed Thursday were intended to prevent the virus’ further spread following two nights of clashes, during which few people wore face masks.

In addition to limiting gatherings, businesses in closed spaces, such as cafes, shopping malls or shops, were ordered to operate shorter hours.

“The health system in Belgrade is close to breaking up,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said. “That is why I can’t understand what we saw last night and the night before.”

The clashes followed an announcement from President Aleksandar Vucic that further lockdown measures were likely as the outbreak in the country was spiraling out of control, especially in Belgrade, where 80 per cent of new cases were recorded. At least 17,342 cases and 352 deaths have been recorded throughout Serbia.

Although the new government measures passed Thursday don’t include an originally planned weekend curfew, the limit on gatherings effectively means a ban on protests.

After initially handling the pandemic relatively well, Vucic and his government have been accused of allowing the crisis to spin out of control in order to hold a June 21 election that tightened his grip on power.

Opponents blame the autocratic president for contributing to the large spike in deaths and new cases after he entirely lifted previous very tight lockdown measures. Mass gatherings at soccer and tennis matches and at nightclubs were allowed despite warnings by experts that this could lead to a spike in infections.

Over the previous two evenings, rock-throwing demonstrators fought running battles with special police forces, who used tear gas, armoured vehicles and horses to disperse them. Both protests started peacefully before far-right nationalist groups started hurling objects at police.

The U.S. Embassy said in a statement Thursday it was “deeply concerned” by the violence.

“We condemn all violence, including what appeared to us to be co-ordinated attacks on police seemingly intended to provoke overreactions, as well as what appeared to the use of excessive force by police,” it said.

Dozens of people were injured in the two days of clashes in Belgrade and other cities.

Serbia’s police chief, Vladimir Rebic, said 118 police officers were injured and 153 protesters were detained.

“Such violence is inadmissible and police will use all means to stop it,” Rebic said in a statement.

Rights watchdog Amnesty International, however, blamed the police for applying “heavy-handed measures” against the demonstrators.

“Images of Serbian police firing tear gas and stun grenades indiscriminately into the crowd, and of protesters and bystanders being charged by mounted police and beaten by police in riot gear, raise serious concerns,” Amnesty International’s Balkans researcher Jelena Sesar said in a statement.

Videos on social media appeared to show police severely beating up protesters. In one, a protester was seen being hit and kicked by several officers and dumped on the sidewalk, seemingly unconscious. The authenticity of the videos could not be independently verified.

Under apparent pressure from the protesters, the Serbian president backtracked Wednesday on his plan to implement a weekend curfew, claiming the measure could not be carried out without proclaiming a nationwide state of emergency.

In an Instagram post on Thursday — from inside the plane taking him on an official visit to France — Vucic said the state will curb unrest, and urged his followers not to confront violent demonstrators.

“I promised that we will know how to preserve peace and stability despite criminal hooligan violent attacks that have shocked us all,” he said.

Vucic has accused foreign intelligence services of being behind the unrest. He has described the protests as “political” and aimed at weakening Serbia in its talks with Kosovo, a former province whose 2008 declaration of independence Belgrade does not recognize.

Although Vucic stopped short of identifying the alleged foreign spy agencies, tabloids under his control accused pro-Russia far-right groups of fueling the violence. The Russian ambassador to Serbia on Thursday vehemently denied accusations that Moscow was behind the unrest.

Jovana Gec And Dusan Stojanovic, The Associated Press

Serbia

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported an additional 456 COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

A 36-year-old Eckville pedophile  was sentenced to 18 years in prison and given a 10-year-long-term supervision order for abusing nearly a dozen children over a decade.
Black Press file photo
Updated: Central Alberta pedophile sentenced to 18 years in prison and declared long-term offender

Eckville man abused nearly a dozen children as young as two over nearly a decade

Short-term rental accommodation is becoming more closely monitored by local governments. File photo
Town of Sylvan Lake looking for input on short-term rentals

Currently, the Town does not regulate short-term rentals.

Businesses are getting creative to keep cash flowing. (File photo)
Central Albertan lobbying government to help those affected by CERB repayments

Catherine Hay says she received a letter in November saying she had to completely repay the benefit

World Juniors’ referee Mike Langin makes a called during the Canada vs. Slovakia at the 2021 World Junior Championship at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Dec. 27, 2020. (Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada)
Former Sylvan Lake man lives his dream at World Junior Championships

Mike Langin was one the 25 Canadian officials who worked during the tournament

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. Public opposition to the Alberta government’s plans to expand coal mining in the Rocky Mountains appears to be growing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File
Alberta cancels coal leases, pauses future sales, as opposition increases

New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt welcomed the suspension

File photo
Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit recovers valuable stolen property

Property valued at over $50,000 recovered by Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit.

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File)
First Nations seek to intervene in court challenge of coal policy removal

Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish First Nations are among those looking to intervene

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

Canada’s pitch to the Biden team has framed Keystone XL as a more environmentally friendly project than original

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
No Pfizer vaccines arriving in Canada next week; feds still expect 4M doses by end of March

More cases of U.K. variant, South African variant found in Canada

Health-care workers wait in line at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians who have had COVID-19 should still get the vaccine, experts say

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were found to have a 95 per cent efficacy

An empty Peel and Sainte-Catherine street is shown in Montreal, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Poll finds strong support for COVID-19 curfews despite doubts about effectiveness

The poll suggests 59 per cent remain somewhat or very afraid of contracting COVID-19

Lacombe is looking at its options for reclaiming sewage lagoons that are no longer needed. Vesta Energy Ltd. has signed a deal to use three lagoons to store water for fracking.
Map from City of Lacombe
Energy company to use former Lacombe sewage lagoons to store water for fracking

Vesta Energy Ltd. will pay Lacombe more than $100,000 a year in 20-year deal

Most Read