Dozens held as protesters attempt to storm Serbian parliament building

Serbian police have detained 71 people after the latest anti-government protests that were initially sparked by the announcement of a new coronavirus lockdown.

Fourteen policemen were injured in the rioting when hundreds of right-wing demonstrators tried to storm the parliament building in downtown Belgrade on Friday evening, police director Vladimir Rebic said.

Several journalists were also injured as demonstrators defying an anti-virus ban on gatherings threw bottles, rocks and flares at police who were guarding the parliament building.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Serbian riot police guard the parliament building during the latest protest (Darko Vojinovic/AP)</figcaption>
Serbian riot police guard the parliament building during the latest protest (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

Police responded with tear gas to disperse them.

Similar clashes erupted twice earlier this week.

The protests flared when populist President Aleksandar Vucic announced a strict curfew for this weekend to curb a surge in new coronavirus cases.

He later scrapped the plan to impose a new curfew and authorities instead banned gatherings of more than 10 people in Belgrade and shortened the working hours of indoor businesses.

Many in Serbia accuse Mr Vucic and his government of letting the virus crisis spin out of control in order to hold a parliamentary election on June 21 that tightened the ruling party’s grip on power.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>The protests have been centred on the Serbian parliament building in Belgrade (Darko Vojinovic/AP)</figcaption>
The protests have been centred on the Serbian parliament building in Belgrade (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

Mr Vucic has denied this, although authorities had relaxed the rules prior to the vote to allow crowds at football games, weddings and other events.

On Friday, the Serbian prime minister announced the highest daily number of deaths, 18, since the start of the pandemic in the Balkan country.

Authorities reported 12 new deaths on Saturday and 354 more infections.

The country now has more than 18,000 confirmed infections and 382 deaths since March and health authorities have warned Serbian hospitals are almost full due to the latest surge in cases.

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