A group of opposition supporters stormed the Serbian parliament building in Belgrade on Tuesday night in a protest against a lockdown planned for the capital this weekend to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Tuesday evening that stricter measures including the lockdown of Belgrade over the weekend would be introduced because of the rising number of coronavirus infections.
Opponents blame the increase on the government and say people should not have to pay the price for another lockdown.
After Vucic’s statement, several thousand people began gathering in front of the parliament in Belgrade’s central square.
About two hours before midnight local time, a small group of protesters pushed past a police cordon, broke through a door and entered the parliament building. But police later pushed them back.
Protesters push for opposition, media rights in Serbia
The crowd demanded Vucic’s resignation and shouted: “Serbia has risen.”
Protesters also clashed with police in front of the state TV building. The broadcaster is accused by the opposition of being biased towards the government.
A number of police vehicles were set on fire.
Serbian police director Vladimir Rebic told state television that a number of demonstrators had been detained and police officers injured, but did not specify how many. He said smaller protests were also held in other Serbian cities.
“I appeal to the citizens … to help ease the tensions,” Rebic said. “I’m certain police will respond adequately and prevent any form of hooligan behaviour.”
A Reuters cameraman said the police threw tear gas, pushing the crowd away from the parliament building. Police reinforcements later arrived.
“People gathered spontaneously. Discontent can be felt in the air,” Radomir Lazovic of the Do Not Let Belgrade Drown opposition group told N1 television.
Serbia, a country of seven million people, has reported 16,168 coronavirus infections and 330 deaths. But the numbers are spiking and 299 cases and 13 deaths were reported on Tuesday alone.
Epidemiologists and doctors warned that hospitals were running at full capacity and that medical workers were tired.
In early March, Serbia introduced a lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
But in late May, the Balkan country was among the first to open up and set elections for June 21. During the campaign, Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) organised rallies at which people did not wear masks.
Top party officials, including the president’s adviser, were infected after celebrating their election victory in a small room while not wearing face masks.
Opposition parties, many of which boycotted the election, criticise Vucic for using the lockdowns to strengthen what they call his autocratic rule.