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20 Apr, 2020 18:58

Anti-quarantine protesters inspired by Covid-19-denying former opera singer hurl stones, clash with police in Vladikavkaz

Anti-quarantine protesters inspired by Covid-19-denying former opera singer hurl stones, clash with police in Vladikavkaz

A group of protesters neglected social distancing and surrounded the local government's office in Vladikavkaz in Russia's south. They demanded the coronavirus quarantine to be lifted and scuffled with the police.

Videos from the Svoboda (Freedom) Square in the capital of Russia's Republic of North Ossetia showed the demonstrators trying to break police cordons and tossing stones at officers in full riot gear.

The unsanctioned rally began at noon on Monday with a group of people gathering outside the administration, with only a few wearing face masks and staying very close to each other. They were quite peaceful and only chanted slogans, demanding an immediate end to the quarantine, which, they insist, leaves them without their livelihood. The protesters also called for the resignation of the republic’s head, Vyacheslav Bitarov, and the release of detained activist Vadim Cheldiyev.

Former opera singer turned leader of North Ossetia’s coronavirus-deniers, Cheldiyev, was arrested last week for spreading fake information about Covid-19. In videos he posted online, he insisted that the disease posed no real health threat. He also attacked Bitarov’s response to the pandemic – despite the lockdown measures in North Ossetia being the same as elsewhere in Russia – and urged the public to protest the quarantine measures. 

The crowd in Vladikavkaz became more aggressive as it grew in numbers. The local authorities placed the turnout at 200 people, but the local media provided various estimates – all the way up to 1,500.

The authorities apparently didn’t expect such a large gathering amid a lockdown, with the police presence not enough to hold the people off as they tried making their way to the government HQ. 

Eventually, Bitarov had to come out of the building and address the angry crowd. The head of the republic tried to explain that the lockdown was a necessary measure and that staying indoors was the only way to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But not many were eager to listen to him. So far, North Ossetia has seen 177 people infected and two deaths due to the disease. 

Also on rt.com Sign of hope or a matter of statistics? Russia sees major drop in new Covid-19 cases

Before leaving, Bitarov proposed that the demonstrators select representatives from amongst themselves in order to negotiate a solution for the crisis.

But the appearance of North Ossetia’s top official wasn’t enough to make the people disperse. They remained at the square, with some clashing with police, who by then had received reinforcements. The local media reports that arrests were made before the protest concluded.

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