Serbian police have detained 71 people after clashes during the fourth night of anti-government protests that were initially sparked by the announcement of a new coronavirus lockdown, a senior police official said on Saturday.
14 policemen were injured in the rioting when hundreds of right-wing demonstrators tried to storm the parliament building in downtown Belgrade on Friday evening, said police director Vladimir Rebic.
Several reporters have also been hurt. Demonstrators defying an anti-virus ban on gatherings threw bottles, rocks, and flares at police who were guarding the parliament building, with police responding with tear gas to disperse them.
Similar clashes erupted twice earlier this week. The protests first started when populist President Aleksandar Vučić announced a strict curfew for this weekend to curb a surge in new coronavirus cases.
Vučić later scrapped the plan to impose a new curfew. Authorities instead banned gatherings of more than 10 people in Belgrade, the capital, and shortened the working hours of indoor businesses.
Many in Serbia accuse the increasingly authoritarian Vučić 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.
Vučić has denied this, although authorities had relaxed the rules prior to the vote, allowing massive crowds to attend soccer games, weddings and other events.
On Friday, the Serbian prime minister, Ana Brnabić, 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 new infections.
The country has over 18,000 confirmed infections and 382 deaths since March and health authorities have warned that Serbian hospitals are almost full due to the latest surge in cases.
Vučić has claimed involvement of unspecified foreign security services in the unrest and pledged he won't be toppled in the streets. Some opposition leaders, meanwhile, are blaming the rioting on groups they say are controlled by the government and sent out to discredit peaceful protests.