BELGRADE (Reuters) – Several thousand people gathered in front of the Serbian parliament building in Belgrade on Saturday for a fifth consecutive night of protests against government policies, including measures to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Protesters, most of whom wore masks, walked in front of the parliament building in the Serbian capital, occasionally calling for President Aleksandar Vucic to step down.
“We hope that authorities will hear us,” said Stefana Radjenovic, one of the protesters.
“We want authorities to stop lying to us and we want to know the entire truth about everything that has been happening in connection with the coronavirus epidemic.”
Similar peaceful protests were held in the cities of Novi Sad, Zrenjanin, Cacak and Nis.
Late on Friday, police clashed with demonstrators who threw flares and stones. Fourteen police officers were injured and 71 people arrested, police said.
This week’s demonstrations were initially driven by frustration over economically stifling measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, but soon evolved into anti-government rallies that demanded Vucic’s resignation.
Critics say the government’s decisions to allow soccer matches, religious festivities, parties and private gatherings to resume in May and parliamentary elections to go ahead on June 21 are to blame for a surge in infections.
Many believe the government was playing down the outbreak in order to allow the elections to proceed.
Vucic dismissed those claims and described the protests as “senseless.”
Serbia, a country of 7 million, has so far reported 18,073 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, and 382 deaths.
It is the first country in Europe to have held elections since the pandemic was declared. A number of opposition parties boycotted the vote to protest Vucic’s control of the media, which they said did not give them enough coverage. Vucic rejected those claims.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Paul Simao)