Posted on Friday October 8, 2021 | 4:15 am
Updated 22 minutes ago
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) – Slovenia’s Interior Minister on Friday dismissed accusations that police used excessive force to curb anti-government protests with water cannons and tear gas on the eve of a major summit of the European Union in the country earlier this week.
The protests were the third in a month, held against virus measures and the use of COVID-19 passes, including going to work in all state-owned companies. People have to show that they are fully vaccinated or have had an expensive PCR test.
Interior Minister Ales Hojs told Brussels that “the police did their job very well in Tuesday’s intervention” and were “within their purview”. An investigation has always been opened into the actions of the police, he added.
About 25 protesters were arrested and several were injured or hospitalized, mainly for inhaling tear gas.
“The police director has already ordered a commission according to the law, which will investigate the legality and proportionality of all means used by the police in these protests,” Hojs said.
Officers in riot gear and on horseback repeatedly used water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters who threatened to block roads as EU and Western Balkan leaders arrived for the meeting.
The clashes led to hours of chaos in the streets of the capital, Ljubljana, and the arrest of a protest leader.
Zoran Stankovic, the leader of the Resni.ca party, threatened to sue the state, claiming he had been illegally detained. Stankovic’s home and his party offices were reportedly searched as part of the police investigation against the protest organizers.
Clashes with police have also erupted in previous protests. On Tuesday, an AP video journalist was sprayed with a water cannon and hit in the head with an unknown object during the police intervention.
Hojs declined to comment on the potential case against Stankovic, saying it was in the hands of prosecutors. The police intervention was not ordered by politicians but provoked by protesters, he insisted.
“The number of injured police officers, which was three times the number of injured protesters, clearly shows who exceeded their jurisdiction,” he said.
The Resni.ca party has said it will no longer organize the protests, saying it will jeopardize the freedom of its leader. The right-wing politician has denied using public discontent with the virus measures to campaign politically.
Like much of central and eastern Europe, Slovenia has seen an increase in new coronavirus infections in recent weeks. The country of 2 million people has fully vaccinated nearly 48% of its population, a lower share than many other EU countries.
Slovenia currently holds the rotating EU presidency.