Protesters and police have clashed in Belgrade for a second night amid anger over the return of strict lockdown measures to tackle coronavirus.
Clouds of teargas and smoke filled the city centre in chaotic scenes on Wednesday that mirrored violence the night before, when thousands came out to protest the return of a round-the-clock weekend lockdown.
Although the president, Aleksandar Vucic, said on Wednesday that the curfew – announced after a rise in Covid-19 cases across the western Balkans – is likely to be scrapped, several thousand people again gathered in front of the parliament to protest.
After a peaceful start, Wednesday’s rally saw protesters hurl flares and other objects at police, who responded with teargas.
On Tuesday Serbia recorded 13 more coronavirus deaths, its highest daily toll to date, as well as 299 newly recorded infections.
“Nobody can endure these numbers. We don’t want to kill our doctors,” said the president, Aleksandar Vučić, announcing the strict weekend curfew. He said a government body would decide whether it should apply nationwide or only to the capital.
Serbia’s coronavirus strategy was shaped by a group of Chinese experts dispatched to Belgrade by the Chinese government in the spring. They recommended strict measures to try to prevent the spread of the virus, but in recent weeks the country had opened up again.
Speaking at an online panel with the Hungarian and Slovenian prime ministers on Wednesday morning, Vučić did not mention the protests but said he had rejected demands for a complete lockdown a week ago.
“Seven days ago I thought to impose once again lockdown in the entire country,” he said. “If we would have done that, we would have no chance to survive economically, and we need to live with this, we need to take all precautionary measures but we need to keep on working very hard, just to protect our business community and our workers.”
Serbia and Montenegro were two of the 15 countries that the EU added to a travel green list last week, allowing citizens to enter the bloc with no restrictions, but some EU nations have kept stricter measures.
Austria last week issued its highest category of travel warning for the whole of the western Balkans, recommending that any Austrian citizens travelling there return home immediately, where they should self-isolate for 14 days. The move was linked to a reported increase in cases in Austria from travellers arriving from the region.
On Saturday, Bosnia recorded its highest daily number of cases, with 289 new infections including 99 in the capital, Sarajevo, where life has largely returned to normal after the end of lockdown.