The Slovenian government made Covid-19 passes mandatory for almost all shops, services, and workplaces in mid-September, as the nation faced one of the worst coronavirus spikes per capita in Europe. The measures have angered many, and Wednesday saw the third major protest against the restrictions.
A huge crowd gathered at Republic Square outside the parliament in Ljubljana to demand the lifting of the Covid-19 pass mandate, as well as the resignation of the government. Police estimated attendance at the unsanctioned rally at around 10,000, while the organizers insisted the number was 10 times higher.
With the parliament heavily guarded by riot police, the people, most of whom neither wore masks nor observed social distancing, began a march towards the suburbs, waving flags and chanting, while a police helicopter circled above.
Police intervened when the procession reached the Ljubljana Ring Road and tried to block it, spraying the crowd with water cannon and using teargas to make them disperse.
After the violent outbreak, the march changed course, with demonstrators making their way back to Republic Square where the rally continued.
The protesters were also angry with some local media outlets over their coverage during the pandemic.
Crews from Kanal A and POP TV commercial broadcasters said they were assaulted while covering the event, with people tossing objects at the journalists and spitting at them. A security guard accompanying the crews was lightly injured, according to the Slovenian Press Agency (STA).
A water cannon was also used as the crowd tried to make a stop outside the headquarters of public broadcaster RTV Slovenija.
The rally took place on the same day Slovenia announced the temporary suspension of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine in response to the death of a 20-year-old woman who suffered blood clots and bleeding in the brain two weeks after receiving the shot. The vaccine will remain on hold while the Health Ministry investigates whether there is a link between the shot and the complications suffered by the woman. The victim’s father attended the protest and addressed the crowd.
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa slammed the rally on Twitter, insisting that attacks, threats, and violations of Covid-19 rules had nothing to do with the constitutional right to assembly. The prime minister also urged the Interior Ministry to intervene as, according to him, the police were unable to contain the protests.
Slovenia, which has a population of around 2 million, has seen more than 292,000 infections and over 4,500 deaths since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The country’s vaccination drive is lagging behind many of its European neighbors, with around 48% fully vaccinated.