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 those who oppose vaccinations 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.”
Slovenia currently holds the rotating presidency for the 27-nation EU.
Also Monday, Health Minister Janez Poklukar rejected opposition calls that he resign over the death of a 20-year-old woman two weeks after she received Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The jabs last month were suspended in Slovenia but opposition parties accused the government of encouraging the single-shot vaccines among young people eager to get COVID-19 passes.
The protesters on Oct. 5 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 — 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 the possibility of spiraling violence in Slovenia as the result of the police actions, saying instead that the nation faces spiraling coronavirus infections from the protesters.
“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 has vaccinated about half of its population. Nearly 5,000 people with COVID-19 have died in Slovenia since the start of the pandemic.
Follow all AP stories on the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.