BELGRADE, Serbia -- Tension soared across Serbia as violent protests that began in response to the government's COVID-19 lockdown plan transformed Wednesday night into a broader fury against President Aleksandar Vucic.
"We have a situation that can be only described as pure violence seeking to violently take over without the will of the people, without taking part in the elections," Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic told a late-night news conference.
The demonstrators chanted against Vucic at rallies across Serbia, voicing frustration over what they see as his autocratic style. Although occupying an office with largely ceremonial powers, he rarely attempts to hide that he pulls the strings in the country.
Police clashed with demonstrators in capital city Belgrade for the second night in a row. Confrontations took place at several sites, including the parliament building where protesters were pushed back by police.
But protesters slipped the multiple cordons moving through the city center and regrouped in several nearby locations, with clashes repeatedly breaking out.
They pelted police with bottles and stones, while police doused much of the center with tear gas. Dozens of armored personnel carriers were deployed behind the cordons.
Multiple TV channels and news sites were broadcasting the chaotic scenes live.
The cat and mouse game lasted several hours. As the situation appeared to be defusing around midnight, the sting of tear gas could be felt far from the clashes.
The situation was also tense in Serbia's two other large cities, Novi Sad and Nis. Protesters ransacked the office of Vucic's Progressive Party in both cities. Incidents were also reported from the industrial town of Kragujevac.
A day earlier, police and demonstrators clashed in front of the national parliament in Belgrade a few hours after Vucic announced that a curfew would be imposed over the coming weekend due to a deteriorating epidemiological situation.