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71 arrested in Serbia while protesting new coronavirus restrictions

2020-07-17

Anti-government protests resulted in the arrest of 71 people in Serbia on Friday night as a new coronavirus lockdown looms.

Friday’s rioting saw hundreds of right-wing protesters attempting to storm Belgrade’s Parliament building, police director Vladimir Rebic said, The Associated Press reports. The riots flouted the government’s ban on gatherings amid a surge of COVID-19 cases.

The detainees include Srdjan Nogo, a pro-Russian far-right politician who helped to lead the violent demonstrations, and a former member of parliament, according to local media.

Given that some of those arrested were citizens of other countries, including Bosnia and Montenegro, Rebic said authorities are looking into “foreign element in the radicalization of the protests.”

Demonstrators, reporters, and 14 police officers were among those injured.

Despite claims by pro-government outlets that Russian intelligence services fueled the chaos to destabilize Serbia — while the Western world tries to make nice with its former province, Kosovo — the Russian foreign ministry has firmly denied involvement.

The strict curfew President Aleksandar Vucic planned for this weekend, meant to combat the virus spikes, triggered the protests that began earlier in the week.

He’s since decided against the lockdown and instead, gatherings of more than 10 people have been banned in the capital and the working hours for indoor businesses have been reduced.

Additional protests were anticipated to take place Saturday.

Some Serbians have accused the president of allowing coronavirus to get out of hand so the June 21 parliamentary election could take place.

Though coronavirus-era guidelines were relaxed ahead of the election, permitting huge crowds at nightclubs and sports events, the politician denies the claims.

Serbia’s current spike has left hospitals near full capacity.

At the time of publication, there were over 18,000 coronavirus cases in Serbia and over 380 people had died of the disease, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University & Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

With News Wire Services