Protesters Clash with Police at Rally in Slovenian Capital

 Protesters Clash with Police at Rally in Slovenian Capital

Police water cannon on the streets of Ljubljana. Photo: Tina Hacler.

Protesters lit flares and threw stones at police while officers responded by deploying water cannon as a rally in Ljubljana called by the Slovenian branch of Anonymous turned violent on Thursday evening.

Slovenian media said that was not entirely clear who exactly took part in the violence.

“Some protesters said they were protesting against the government, others against inappropriate [COVID-19] measures, and others due to the belief that the new coronavirus epidemic is a conspiracy theory,” public broadcaster RTV Slovenia reported.

“Apparently, however, hooligan groups also joined the protesters, taking this opportunity to commit acts of violence,” it added.

According to police, 400 to 600 protesters gathered and ten suspects were arrested.

After the protest, Anonymous Slovenia wrote on Twitter that “as we unfortunately expected, certain individuals or groups effectively discredited our protests”. It also insisted that it had invited people to a peaceful protest.

Ahead of the rally, the protest movement organising the weekly anti-government “bicycle protests” in Ljubljana distanced itself from the Anonymous rally, claiming that the organisers had called on people to disregard health protection measures and to use violence.

The bicycle protests started in mid-March, when the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the return to power of the right-wing politician Janez Jansa who critics accuse of usurping power and of leading the country towards Hungarian-style ‘Orbanisation’ – a reference to the authoritarian rule pf Hungarian premier Viktor Orban.

But last month the protesters decided to put the weekly protests on standby after a new spike of COVID-19 cases in Slovenia.

Gatherings of more than six people are currently banned in the country and there is a night-time curfew in a bid to curb the spread of the epidemic.

Prime Minister Jansa said on Twitter on Thursday that “peaceful protests when there is no epidemic are a constitutional right”, but violence against police is a crime.

Media outlets and social media users close to Jansa’s party claim the attacks on police were organised by far-left organisations.

Interior Minister Ales Hojs told RTV Slovenia that some rioters come from the “criminal underworld” and some from football fan groups.

Several Slovenian media reported that their crews had been jostled and obstructed while reporting, while one photographer was injured.

The Slovenian Journalists’ Association, DNS, condemned the violence, but also a statement by Interior Minister Hojs who attributed part of the responsibility for the protests turning violent to the media.

Hojs, who went out into the streets after the clashes to express support for the police, told a reporter from the commercial broadcaster POP TV that media had “supported and nourished [the protesters] for months… and now here you have wounded police officers”.

The DNS said it understands the minister’s statement as pressure on the work of journalists.

“Continual gatherings in the centre of the capital are, by all criteria, events worthy of journalistic reporting, whether politicians want that or not,” the DNS stated.

Anja Vladisavljevic

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