LJUBLJANA – Police fired tear gas and water cannons in Slovenia’s capital on Wednesday at thousands of protesters who oppose tough anti-coronavirus measures in the small European Union nation.
The protesters responded by throwing bottles and other objects at the riot police.
About 10,000 protesters, chanting “Freedom! Freedom!" tried to block a major highway north of Ljubljana when the police intervened, the second such incident in Slovenia within a month.
The protest, organized mostly by groups against the use of COVID-19 vaccine passes, took place as Slovenia suspended the use of the Johnson & Johnson shot on Wednesday while it investigates the death of a 20-year-old woman who had received one.
The suspension of the J&J vaccine will be in place until experts determine whether there was a link between the woman's death from a stroke this week and the vaccine shot she received two weeks earlier, Health Minister Janez Poklukar said.
However, the vaccine's “benefits continue to 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, including for going to work in all state-run firms. People must show that they are either fully vaccinated or that they have taken an expensive PCR test.
The government approved the purchase of an additional 100,000 J&J doses from Hungary in response to the growing demand.
The woman who died was the second recipient of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Slovenia to have experienced a serious health condition that wasn't COVID-19, the official STA news agency reported. About 120,000 people in Slovenia have received the vaccine.
Earlier at the protest, participants observed a moment of silence for the young woman.
The protesters carried banners reading “Stop Corona Fascism” and demanded equal rights for both those who are vaccinated and those who are not.
“I am here for the future, the future of my kids, future generations, because this craziness needs to be stopped,” protester Katja Zupan said. “If we don’t stand up for ourselves and for mankind, then we are done, we are lost."
Like much of Central and Eastern Europe, Slovenia in recent weeks has seen a rise in new coronavirus infections. The country of 2 million people has fully vaccinated nearly 48% of its population, a smaller share than in many other EU nations.
Slovenia has recommended Johnson & Johnson vaccines for all people over 18, while some countries have limited its use to older people.
Read all AP stories on the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.