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Serbia Prohibits mass Parties in Belgrade after virus lockdown protests

Serbian government on Thursday banned gatherings of over 10 people in the capital, Belgrade, following two nights of violent clashes between police and thousands of demonstrators protesting coronavirus lockdown measures.

Thousands of people defied the ban to stage a sit-down protest Thursday night in front of Parliament, together with other peaceful parties in cities elsewhere in Serbia.

Most protesters wore white T-shirts using the inscription, “Sit Down, Do Not Be Setup” — talking to widespread claims that the violence that the prior nighttime was staged with hooligan bands near the police to overthrow the opposition groups’ picture.

Regardless of no police intervention, there have been many skirmishes between peaceful protesters as well as the far-right bands, but no clashes such as the violence of their past two nights.

Serbia’s government emergency team said that the constraints imposed Thursday were meant to avoid the virus’ further disperse after two nights of clashes, during which several individuals wore face masks.

Along with restricting parties, companies in closed areas, like cafes, shopping malls, or stores, were arranged to run shorter hours.

“The health system in Belgrade is near breaking up,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic explained. “That is the reason why I can not know what we watched last night and the evening before.”

The clashes followed a statement from President Aleksandar Vucic that additional lockdown steps were probably since the epidemic in the country had been spiraling out of control, particularly in Belgrade, in which 80 percent of new cases were listed. At least 17,342 instances and 352 deaths are recorded during Serbia.

Even though the new government steps passed Thursday do not incorporate an initially intended weekend curfew, the limitation on parties effectively means a ban on protests.

After initially tackling the pandemic comparatively nicely, Vucic and his administration were accused of letting the catastrophe twist out of control to maintain a June 21 election which tightened his grasp on power.

Opponents blame the autocratic president contributing to the massive spike in deaths and new cases once he completely lifted previous tight lockdown measures. Mass gatherings at tennis and soccer games and clubs were permitted regardless of warnings by experts that this could cause a spike in diseases.

Over the past two seasons, rock-throwing demonstrators fought running battles with particular police forces, who used tear gas, armored vehicles, and horses to distribute them. The two protests began peacefully before far-right nationalist groups began throwing objects in the office.

Dozens of people were hurt in the two days of clashes in Belgrade and other towns.

Rights watchdog Amnesty International blamed the authorities for implementing”heavy-handed measures” from the demonstrators.

“Pictures of police firing tear gas and stun grenades into the crowd, as well as protesters and bystanders being charged with mounted police and beaten by police in riot gear, raise significant issues,” Amnesty International’s Balkans researcher Jelena Sesar stated in a statement.

Videos on societal media seemed to reveal police seriously beating up protesters. In one, a protester has been seen being struck and kicked by various officers and dumped onto the sidewalk, apparently unconscious. The credibility of the videos couldn’t be independently confirmed.

Under evident pressure from the protesters, the president backtracked Wednesday on his strategy to execute a weekend curfew, asserting the measure couldn’t be completed without proclaiming a nationwide state of crisis.

Within an Instagram article on Thursday — by in the airplane taking him in an official trip to France — Vucic said the nation will suppress unrest, also urged his followers to not face violent demonstrators.

“I assured that we’ll understand how to preserve peace and stability despite criminal hooligan violent strikes which have stunned all of us,” he explained.

He’s described the protests as”political” and geared toward ridding Serbia in its discussions with Kosovo, a former state whose 2008 announcement of independence Belgrade doesn’t recognize.