Third day of protests in Serbia concludes peacefully, several incidents and provocations reported

Protesters sitting down in front of the National Assembly in Belgrade; Photo: FoNet

BELGRADE – Citizens of Serbia gathered to protest in more than ten cities yesterday, following the violent clashes with between the protesters and the police on Tuesday and Wednesday that saw numerous incidents of disproportionate use of force. The gatherings on Thursday concluded mostly peacefully, with several violent incidents and provocations being reported.

The protests remain leaderless and without a unifying message. Opposition parties gathered in the Alliance for Serbia supported the protests and demanded that the Government Crisis Staff for the fight against COVID-19 be replaced, as well as the sanctions for the police brutality seen earlier this week.

After the most violent protests recorded in the country in two decades that took place on Wednesday, with the images of tear gas bombs, pyrotechnic, stampedes and police dispersing citizens with batons, an initiative circled on social media yesterday for the protesters to sit down and differentiate themselves from those provoking violence by attacking the police.

At least some of the attacks on police that led to the violent response on Tuesday and Wednesday have been attributed to the hooligans backed by the ruling party.

Pro-government media has portrayed the events exclusively as an attempt of a violent overthrow the government and disruption of the public order, even though only a small part of the people who actually attended the protests clashed with the police.

On Thursday, several thousand citizens gathered once again in front of the National Assembly of Serbia in Belgrade, with all the reports highlighting the high presence of young people, a significant number of them being under 20.

Protests in front of the National Assembly; one of the placards reads: “Fight, the youth of Serbia”, the other: “We drank tear gas, we will drink a beer as well” ; Photo: FoNet

The protesters sat down on the boulevard in front of the Assembly. Similar images were seen in the second biggest city of Novi Sad, while the protests in other parts of the country also saw protest walks.

According to N1, at several points during the night it seemed that the situation is going to escalate, with a torch being lit and a group of protesters encouraging other people to once again trigger clashes with the police. The situation, however, did not escalate as the majority of the citizens remained sitting.

Nova.rs reporter Vojislav Milovančević was attacked and injured by hooligans while he was reporting on their attempts to obstruct the peaceful protests, N1 reporetd. Protest on Wednesday also saw multiple assaults on journalists reporting on the developments.

Several other incidents were also reported, such as the breaking of windows of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) headquarters in the city of Čačak.

The trigger for the protests was the announcement of President Aleksandar Vučić on Tuesday that the new curfew will be introduced this week due to the rise in COVID-19 infections, a decision revoked the next day.

Serbia saw dramatic changes in its policy on COVID-19 pandemic, with the government removing virtually all restrictions and sending messages that virus has weakened in the weeks prior to the 21 June election, followed by the proclamation that the situation is close to a calamity only two weeks later, as well as surfacing of reports by investigative journalists claiming that the true number of cases and deaths has been hidden from the public for weeks, if not months.

Several right-wing groups were spotted at the protests as well, apparently protesting for the reasons of their own, but they neither constitute the majority of the participants nor are leading the protests.