Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has retracted his decision to reimpose a coronavirus curfew and has urged people to stop attending anti-government rallies after a violent clash between protesters and police.
The president said Wednesday that new measures could still include shortened hours for nightclubs and penalties for those not wearing masks.
On Tuesday, Vucic said at a news conference he would implement a curfew Friday, “probably” to run from 6 p.m. until 5 a.m. on July 13. The president added that gatherings would be restricted to five people starting Wednesday, citing a rising number of coronavirus cases in the country and hospitals running at full capacity.
Vucic’s backtracking Wednesday came after a protest by thousands Tuesday night outside the parliament building in Belgrade. Police fired tear gas and beat demonstrators, while protesters retaliated by throwing stones and bottles at officers, some chanting for the resignation of the president.
The clash left 17 protesters and 43 police injured and 23 protesters arrested, according to police director Vladmir Rebic. More protests were reported Wednesday.
Vucic said foreign secret services were behind the protests by “right-wing and pro-fascist demonstrators.” He did not name specific intelligence agencies and stood by the police’s handling of the protests.
"We will never allow the destabilization of Serbia from within and abroad,” he said.
The president’s critics have accused him of lifting previous lockdown measures to hold parliamentary elections on June 21, which Vucic’s Progressive Party won by a landslide — accusations the president has denied.
Critics also blame Vucic for the swell in infection rates, as the government permitted sports matches, religious festivities, parties and private gatherings to resume after lifting state of emergency restrictions on May 6.
As of Wednesday afternoon EDT, Serbia had 17,076 reported cases of the coronavirus infection and 341 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics.