STA, 5 November 2020 - A violent protest organised above all by Anonymous Slovenia took place in Ljubljana city centre, with protesters clashing with the police, using flares and throwing granite pavement cubes at the riot police. The police have used a water cannon for the first time since 2012.
After clashes broke out in the afternoon in front of the Parliament House, the police pushed the protesters, there were several hundred, from the Republic Square, dispersing them along several streets in city centre. Some are rallying against the government, others against coronavirus measures.
Trying to bring the riot under control, the police also used a water cannon, while a police helicopter was circling over the city centre the whole time.
The protests caused some damage on buildings and other infrastructure, as rioters threw granite pavement, and also aimed flares and other pyrotechnical devices at the police, as well as yelling "sheep" and "crooks" at the police.
The head of the Ljubljana Police Administration Stanislav Vrečar said in the evening that some 500 people were protesting and that was clear that they had no interest in peaceful protests. Ten have been arrested.
He said that a fight that broke out around 5pm was the point marking when the protest turned into a riot. In addition to the water canon, gas was also used later in Prešeren Square, said Vrečar, adding that public order was reestablished at around 7pm.
Several police officers have been mildly injured, he said, but could not yet give a number as some were still working. Most of the injuries were caused by pavement cubes. "If a cube hits your helmet, that's a nasty concussion, believe me," he illustrated.
According to his information there were no severe injuries among the police or civilians. He said the Ljubljana police force was aided by officers from other parts of the country but would not give a number, as today's intervention is not yet over.
Prime Minister Janez Janša tweeted support for the police officers, saying that peaceful protests when there is no epidemic are a constitutional right, but riots and physical violence against the police are criminal acts. He commended the police for being professional.
Podpora @policija_si za profesionalno opravljeno delo, za varovanje premoženja in ljudi. Mirni protesti, ko ni epidemije in nevarnosti okužb, so ustavna pravica. Ragrajanje in fizično nasilje ter napadi na policiste pa so vedno in povsod kriminalna dejanja, ki bodo kaznovana. https://t.co/crQ17pnnzo— Janez Janša (@JJansaSDS) November 5, 2020
According to media reports, Interior Minister Aleš Hojs also expressed support for the police officers on the ground today. He attributed part of the responsibility for the protests turning violent to the media. "You've supported and fed them for months... and now here you have wounded police officers," he told a reporter of the commercial broadcaster POP TV.
The Ljubljana Police Administration has meanwhile said that the situation is under control.
Two civilians reportedly sustained serious injuries and were taken to hospital.
Several media outlets reported that their news crews had been shoved around, while a photographer was reportedly injured.
The Slovenian Journalists' Association (DNS) condemned the violence, saying that a photojournalist had to seek medical aid at the emergency department after being attacked by as yet unknown perpetrator.
"We reiterate that any violence is unacceptable and that such conditions cannot become standard work risk environment for journalists and cameramen performing their mission of gathering and communicating information to the public, who deserve to be kept up t date," the DNS stated.
The association understands Hojs's comment that media share the responsibility for today's riots as pressure on the work of journalists and media, and as yet another attempt by the government to lay the blame for the epidemic and all that is bad at the media's door.
The Trade Union of Police Officers of Slovenia, one of the two biggest police unions, expressed concern today in a tweet over "irresponsible behaviour of individuals... acting violently, unaware of the consequences of their acts in what are demanding times health-wise".
The protest and riots were also condemned "in the strongest terms" by Defence Minister Matej Tonin, who tweeted that such conduct was at least irresponsible at a time when all efforts were devoted to fighting the virus and helping people and healthcare. "Violence has no place in Slovenian society, and cannot be acceptable even as expression of disagreement," the New Slovenia (NSi) leader tweeted.
Earlier this afternoon the protest movement organising the Friday bicycle protests against the government distanced itself from today's rally because some of the organisers called on people to disregard the health protection measures in place and to use violence.
RTV Slovenia's news portal also said that the Friday protestors had warned days ago that coronavirus-deniers and conspiracy theory groups had started calling to protests against the government.
Anonymous responded to this by tweeting that this was proof that the Friday protestors were not serious and did not really want Prime Minister Janez Janša gone.
Meanwhile, public gatherings in Slovenia are still capped to only six persons due to the coronavirus situation and with the country in second lockdown this year.