LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Slovenia's populist prime minister on Monday blamed a rise in COVID-19 infections on protests in early October that erupted into clashes between police and thousands of opponents of vaccination and coronavirus restrictions.
Prime Minister Janez Jansa was responding in parliament to opposition criticism over the use of force by police against the protesters, including tear gas and water cannons. Jansa defended police actions, accusing the demonstrators of attacking the police.
“Forty police officers were injured, and some rioters were slightly injured,” Jansa said of the unrest that erupted on the eve of a major European Union summit in Slovenia in early October. “It is quite clear who was inflicting violence.”
The protesters came out to criticize virus containment measures and the use of COVID-19 passes, which must be used to go to work in all state-run firms. People must show that they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from the virus or must provide a recent negative PCR test.
About 25 protesters were detained and several were injured or hospitalized — mostly for inhaling tear gas. An AP video journalist was sprayed by a water cannon and hit in the head with an unknown object during the police intervention.
Jansa rejected a possibility of spiraling violence in Slovenia as the result of police action against the protesters, saying instead that the nation faces spiraling infections.
“As a result of irresponsible behavior that was certainly not caused by the police or the government” Slovenia could be forced to reintroduce a lockdown, Jansa said, according to the STA news agency.
Slovenia on Monday reported 364 new confirmed cases, almost double compared to a week ago, STA said. The country of 2 million people has vaccinated about half of the population. Nearly 5,000 people have died since the start of the pandemic.
Slovenia currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.