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MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine president has retained a strict lockdown in a central city he described as a new coronavirus hot spot, while the capital and the rest of the country were placed in lighter quarantines.

President Rodrigo Duterte made the announcement Tuesday night on TV, further stretching three-month lockdowns and quarantines that officials call successful but his critics describe as ridden with failures and confusion.

The Philippines has among the most COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia with more than 37,500 people infected, including 1,266 who have died.

Duterte blamed Cebu city, which will remain under a lockdown up to July 15, for many violations of the rules that led to infection spikes.

“Cebu is now the hot spot for COVID. Why? Many of you did not follow. So don’t get mad at me,” he said.

The Philippines shut down most businesses in March but has reopened the economy recently as unemployment soared and massive government funds dwindled for cash and food aid for the poor.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— South Korea is considering listing religious facilities with nightclubs, hostess bars and karaoke rooms as “high risk” venues for the spread of COVID-19 following a slew of transmissions tied to church gatherings. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Wednesday more than 40% of the country’s newly confirmed infections over the previous three days were traced to places of worship. He pleaded people to refrain from religious gatherings and criticized churches and other facilities for failing to use proper prevention measures. High-risk facilities are advised to close or otherwise must enforce anti-virus measures and register visitors with smartphone QR codes so virus carriers can be tracked.

— China reported just three new cases Wednesday, all in the capital Beijing where an outbreak last month appears to have run its course amid intense testing and case tracing. No new deaths were reported, leaving the toll at 4,634 among 83,534 cases of COVID-19 recorded since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. With 328 cases reported since June 11, Beijing has reinstated some prevention measures, suspended classes for schoolchildren and carried out 8.3 million virus tests among the city’s more than 20 million residents.

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Dozens Injured in Belgrade Rioting Sparked by New Virus Lockdown

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Dozens of demonstrators and police were injured in overnight rioting in Belgrade, triggered when a crowd stormed Serbia's parliament in protest at plans to reimpose a lockdown following a surge in coronavirus cases.

Footage showed police kicking and beating people with truncheons while protesters pelted officers with stones and bottles, after thousands chanting for the resignation of President Aleksandar Vucic gathered outside the building.

Police director Vladimir Rebic said on Wednesday that 43 police and 17 protesters were injured and 23 protesters had been arrested.

"A handful of hooligans will not succeed," he said overnight in a live broadcast on state-run RTS TV after the crowd was dispersed.

Vucic announced the new lockdown on Tuesday, saying it was needed because of the rising number of coronavirus cases. It is due to run over the coming weekend and will cover Belgrade and possibly also other areas.

The government's critics say its decisions to allow soccer matches, religious festivities, parties, and private gatherings to resume, and parliamentary elections to go ahead on June 21, are to blame for the spike in infections.

Serbia, a country of 7 million, has reported 16,168 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 330 deaths, and health authorities say hospitals are running at full capacity and staff are exhausted.

"My old man died from coronavirus, ... this is for my father," a young protester in a rugby shirt shouted in a live N1 TV broadcast on Tuesday evening.

The government says a lack of sanitary discipline among the population is the reason for the rise in cases.

Opposition parties, many of which boycotted an election that Vucic's Progressive Party won by a landslide, say he is using the pandemic and lockdowns to strengthen what they call his autocratic rule, accusations that he denies.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; editing by John Stonestreet)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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