A Briton and a Tunisian are among 71 people arrested in Serbia after a fourth night of rioting in Belgrade and other cities against the government’s management of the coronavirus pandemic and growing authoritarianism, according to AFP.
Thousands of people demonstrated in several cities on Friday, with protesters hurling stones at police in front of parliament in the capital. Some protesters also threw firecrackers and chanted nationalist slogans in Belgrade, according to AFP journalists.
“Among those arrested are many foreign nationals from Bosnia, Montenegro but also from Great Britain and Tunisia,” the police chief, Vladimir Rebic, said at a press conference.
Photographs of the British and Tunisian passports of two men were shown on a screen. According to local media, mostly tabloids close to power, the Briton is 24 years old, while the Tunisian is 54.
“These are the documents with which they entered Serbia,” said Rebic, who added that he intends to examine the influence of “these foreign factors on the violence of the demonstrations”.
“Serbia welcomed them hoping that they would come to have a good time with us, but they came to destroy and attack the police.”
Fourteen police officers were injured in Friday’s clashes, and 130 since the protests began on Tuesday, the police chief said. No figures have been given for the number of injured protesters.
The protesters have vented their frustration with President Aleksandar Vucic, who is seen by many as having facilitated a second wave of the virus by lifting an initial lockdown so that elections could be held on June 21 which his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) largely won.
The first demonstration on Tuesday was triggered after Vucic announced the return of a weekend curfew to combat a second wave of coronavirus infections that has overwhelmed hospitals in Belgrade.
While the government backtracked on the curfew, the protests have continued against a leader accused of trampling on Serbia’s democratic institutions.
“The pressure cooker is now exploding”, Nemanja Rujevic, a Bonn-based Serbian journalist, told AFP, adding that the “unhinged” management of the health crisis compounded long-running frustration over Vucic’s authoritarian rule.
On Friday, the Serbian prime minister announced the highest daily number of deaths, 18, since the start of the pandemic in the Balkan country. The country has over 17,300 confirmed cases and 352 deaths since March and health authorities have warned that Serbia hospitals are almost full due to the latest surge in cases.