Serbia’s police director, Vladimir Rebic, said 43 police and 17 protesters were injured and 23 protesters were arrested following clashes at the parliament and in the surrounding streets.
“A handful of hooligans will not succeed,” Mr Rebic said in a live broadcast on state-run RTS television channel after the crowd was dispersed – adding that five police vehicles had been set on fire.
Thousands of demonstrators fought running battles with police and stormed Serbia’s parliament complex in protest at government plans to reimpose lockdown restrictions following a surge in coronavirus cases.
Footage showed police kicking and beating people with truncheons while protesters pelted officers with stones and bottles, as violence erupted around the National Assembly building in the capital, Belgrade.
Some of the protesters briefly managed to enter the parliament by force, but they were pushed back by riot police.
Thousands of people came out into the streets of Belgrade on Tuesday evening after the president, Aleksandar Vucic, announced that a strict curfew will be imposed in the city over the coming weekend following an outbreak of 299 new Covid-19 cases.
The government’s critics have argued that the decision to allow football matches, religious events, parties and private gatherings – and for parliamentary elections to go ahead on 21 June – are to blame for the spike in infections.
“My old man died from coronavirus … This is for my father,” a young protester in a rugby shirt shouted in a live N1 television broadcast on Tuesday evening.
The crowd outside the building could be heard chanting for the resignation of Mr Vucic. One demonstrator said his government’s “mistakes” had led to the rise in coronavirus cases.
Mr Vucic described the virus situation in Belgrade as “alarming”, saying hospitals in the city were now full.
On Wednesday, Serbia’s chief epidemiologist, Predrag Kon, said the curfew is still under discussion and might not be imposed after all. Mr Kon said the protest on Tuesday evening “showed how people feel” about the possibility of total lockdown in Belgrade at the weekend.
Opposition parties – many of which boycotted an election that Mr Vucic’s Progressive Party won by a landslide – have claimed that the populist leader lifted previous lockdown measures to help cement his grip on power.