Peaceful protests across Serbia, a small group provokes clashes with police in Belgrade

Protest in front of the National Assembly on 10 July; Photo: FoNet

BELGRADE – Anti-government protests took place once again last night in the biggest cities of Serbia. In the capital of Belgrade, after more than three hours of peaceful protest, a small group started attacking the police, provoking another violent response that ended in several arrests.

The protests in Belgrade once again featured both right-wing groups, which at several points chanted nationalist slogans, and left-wing organisations and movements. It still appears, however, that the majority of the participants are without strong ideological leaning and is just expressing dissatisfaction with the government. Participation of high school and university students remains unusually high.

Earlier on Friday, opposition coalition the Alliance for Serbia announced that it had received information from individual police members that “the hooligans led by regime henchmen” are planing new attacks on police and the citizens that are protesting peacefully. The Alliance is taking part in, but not organising the protests, which remain leaderless.

At around 9.20 PM, according to Nova.rs, several protesters broke the security camera in front of the National Assembly in Belgrade, as well as the glass on the door of the Assembly. Police forces did not react.

The video showing approximately a dozen young men dressed as football hooligans vandalising the entrance of the Assembly was played multiple times on the pro-government television Pink during the night. It was interpreted by the interlocutors as representing the protests as a whole.

After a couple of protesters broke into the National Assembly building, a small contingent of police force showed up and clashed with them. Unlike the Tuesday and Wednesday night, there were no tear gas bombs and the police, much less numerous than before, remained on the defensive as the protesters threw rocks and glass at them.

At this point, the protesters clashing with the police in front of the National Assembly remained a small minority of citizens that gathered on the spot.

After a short standstill, immediately following the live statement from President Aleksandar Vučić from Paris for Pink, during which he said that the people responsible for the violence will be arrested, the clashes between the part of the protesters and the police, which finally received reinforcements, resumed. The police managed to disperse the crowd from the boulevard in front of the National Assembly fairly quickly, as many of the participants had already left.

The protests took place in other parts of the country as well, with only minor incidents being reported. Most notably, around 1000 protesters tried to block the highway between the second largest city of Novi Sad and Belgrade, but they were prevented in reaching the spot by the police, after which they dispersed peacefully.

Several journalists were once again attacked over the course of the protests. Al Jazeera journalists had their equipment broken, while Beta news agency members got physically injured, one of them being hit in the head with a brick coming from the ranks of the protesters, Beta directors confirmed.

The protests in Serbia have been going on since Tuesday, when the new curfew due to spike in COVID-19 cases was announced by the President. The government’s policy on the fight against the epidemic has been highly controversial for months. The protests still do not have a unified message or demands.