Thousands protest Slovakia's coronavirus restrictions

Demonstrators gather in front of the National Council during a protest against the government's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions on the country's Day of the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy, in Bratislava, Slovakia, November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Thousands of Slovaks protested against the government and its anti-coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday, gathering in the capital Bratislava and other cities as the country struggles through a second wave of the pandemic.

A surge in COVID-19 infections worse than the first wave is hitting much of Europe, forcing countries back into lockdowns that have curbed business and daily life and put livelihoods at risk - leading to protests in several countries.

Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million, has recorded a total of 88,602 coronavirus infections and 557 deaths. On Monday, it registered 1,326 new infections, off from daily peaks above 3,000 seen a few weeks ago.

Like others in central Europe, Slovakia has suffered a jump in coronavirus cases since September after it limited the spread better than others during the initial outbreak in March.

But the recent surge looks to be on the decline, and the Slovak government has started reopening theatres, cinemas, and fitness centres with capacity restrictions.

Public gatherings are still limited, however, retail shops face some curbs and restaurants and many schools remain closed.

Zuzana, a 29-year-old protester who declined to give her full name, said the restrictions made no sense for her life. "We just sit at home," she told Reuters.

Protesters, many defying mask-wearing rules and carrying Slovak flags, gathered on Tuesday in various areas of Bratislava, including outside government offices where police had installed security fences.

The rallies - coming on the day Slovakia marked the anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution that peacefully overthrew then-Czechoslovakia's Communist regime - started in the afternoon and continued into the evening.

Protesters carried signs criticising Prime Minister Igor Matovic or saying, "Return our Freedom".

TASR news agency said militant soccer supporters' groups known as ultras joined the protests, throwing objects at the government complex. Local media said far-right supporters also participated. Police reported no serious incidents.

(Reporting by Radovan Stoklasa in Bratislava and Jason Hovet in Prague; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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