by Darko Bandick
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Police in the Slovenian capital fired tear gas and water cannons on Wednesday at thousands of protesters who protest strict anti-coronavirus measures in the small European Union nation.
The protesters responded by throwing bottles and other items at the riot police.
About 10,000 protesters chanted, “Azadi! Freedom!” when police intervened to try to block a major highway north of Ljubljana, the second such incident in Slovenia within a month.
A protest organized mostly by groups against the use of a COVID-19 vaccine pass, Slovenia on Wednesday suspended the use of the Johnson & Johnson shot while it investigates the death of a 20-year-old woman who had received one.
Health Minister Janez Poklukar said the suspension of the vaccine for Jammu and Kashmir will remain in force until experts determine whether there was a link between the woman’s death from a stroke this week and the vaccine she received two weeks ago.
However, the vaccine’s “benefits outweigh the risks,” Poklukar said.
The one-dose J&J vaccine became more popular after Slovenian authorities introduced new requirements for the use of COVID-19 passes for all government firms to go to work. People have to show that they have either been fully vaccinated or have taken an expensive PCR test.
In response to growing demand, the government approved the purchase of an additional 100,000 J&J doses from Hungary.
The woman who died was the second recipient of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Slovenia to experience a serious health condition, not COVID-19, the official STA news agency reported. About 120,000 people in Slovenia have received the vaccine.
Earlier in the protest, the participants observed a moment of silence for the young woman.
The protesters carried banners that read “Stop Corona Fascism” and demanded equal rights for both vaccinated and non-vaccinated people.
“I am here for the future of my children, the future of generations to come, because this madness needs to stop,” said protester Katja Zupan. “If we don’t stand up for ourselves and for the human race, we’re done, we’re lost.”
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 immunized about 48% of its population, which is a small fraction compared to many other EU countries.
Slovenia recommends Johnson & Johnson vaccines for everyone over the age of 18, while some countries limit its use to older people.
Read all AP stories on the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.