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Serbia opposition stage curfew protest against government

BELGRADE – A group of Serbian opposition leaders on Thursday staged a protest during an evening curfew to voice their criticism of the populist government's measures against the new coronavirus.

Also Thursday, thousands banged pots and blew whistles from their windows and balconies, even as authorities eased a previously announced 83-hour curfew planned for the upcoming weekend.

Serbia’s populist government in mid-March introduced some of the harshest measures in Europe, imposing a state of emergency, banning people over 65 years old from leaving their homes and imposing daily and weekend curfews.

Government critics have insisted that the authorities of autocratic President Aleksandar Vucic have used the state of emergency to curb democracy and media freedoms. Vucic has denied this.

Leaders of several opposition parties on Thursday gathered at the start of the curfew at 6 p.m., holding speeches outside the Serbian parliament building in Belgrade. They wore masks but didn't fully respect social-distancing measures.

No opposition supporters were invited to the protests, but some supporters of the government showed up, shouting at the opposition leaders. No major incidents were reported.

The curfew initially was meant to last until Monday morning to prevent people from socializing during the brief May Day holiday, but the government earlier on Thursday shortened the ban following public pressure.

Fueling tensions, pro-government protesters and apparent soccer hooligans on Wednesday lit flares in support of Vucic on top of several buildings in the new part of town, drawing sharp public criticism.

Serbia has reported 9,009 infections while 179 people have died. The Balkan country has started easing the measures, but experts have warned that the situation is still volatile.

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