STA, 16 September 2021 - Seven police officers were injured and several police vehicles damaged on Wednesday after an initially peaceful protest featuring several thousand people against the Covid pass mandate turned violent. Nine rioters were apprehended, police said on Thursday. Interior Minister Aleš Hojs described the rioting as "scandalous".
Police broke up the rally after protesters started throwing bottles, rocks and lit torches at police and the Parliament House, breaking a dozen windows on the building. Tear gas and a water cannon were deployed.
Police Commissioner Anton Olaj told the press on Thursday that freedom of expression and assembly was a legitimate right, but it must be exercised without violence.
"We condemn all violence, including the conduct of protesters at yesterday's rally in Ljubljana, where mass violations of law and order occurred."
Olaj said more such incidents were expected. "We are ready and will continue to act as demanded by the law." He stressed that everyone who organises rallies must realise that they will be held accountable in the end, which includes covering the costs.
There has been criticism in the media of how police handled the protests, in particular the low number of officers at the start and the absence of fencing, which is a typical feature of smaller anti-government protests that take place at the same location each Friday.
Tomislav Omejec, the head of the general police sector at the General Police Department, said protection was organised based on the information available at the time, gleaned largely from Facebook posts.
Police numbers were stepped up once nightfall approached and officers protecting the Parliament House detected pressure escalating, he said.
Interior Minister Hojs described the rioting as "scandalous for a democratic society" and a "realisation of left fascism in practice", after yesterday accusing "offshoots" of left parties of being responsible for the riots.
Asked whether he had any evidence for that, he said it would be "difficult to prove directly whether this or that person called anyone, but this is a pattern that we saw last year", he said in reference to violent 5 November protests.
Unofficial information obtained by news portal N1 indicates that many rioters were football hooligans, who joined a rally that featured diverse groups of opponents of vaccination, masks and a wide spectrum of those displeased with the latest Covid pass mandate.
Hojs dismissed reports that the majority of the protesters were peaceful and that only a handful were problematic, noting that such rallies were always potentially risky if organisers allow groups that want incidents to join.
He also drew parallels with the anti-government protests that have been held each Friday for over a year. "If you look at the composition of people who were there yesterday, at least some of them have been regular visitors of Friday protests."
The rally was organised by several large Facebook groups, including a small political party called Resni.ca, whose leader Zoran Stevanovič said in a press release today that the original event had "nothing to do" with the subsequent violence.
"Because the authorities did not know how to divert attention from this public gathering, they activated a group of rioters immediately after the end of the rally to stage a battle with police... Unfortunately, many peaceful participants who were already dispersing suffered the consequences of police repression," he said.