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News 04 Apr 17

Anti-Vucic Protests Spread Across Serbia

Thousands of people protested in towns across Serbia against what they call the “dictatorship” of Aleksandar Vucic, the president-elect and current prime minister.

Filip Rudic, Maja Zivanovic, Vanja Djuric

Anti-government rallies, organised via social media, were held on Tuesday evening in more then 15 towns across Serbia. The largest demonstrations took place in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis and Kragujevac, with thousands attending.

Protesters, mostly young people, across the state had no specific demands but were protesting against what they referred to as president elect, current Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic’s “dictatorship”.

Demonstrators also protested against alleged state media control and irregularities during presidential elections held on April 2.

They have refused to accept Vucic’s presidential election victory after he won 55 per cent of votes, almost 40 per cent more than the former ombudsman Sasa Jankovic who came second in the poll.

Protesters all over shouted similar slogans including: “Vucic, thief!”, “Get Out” and “You Stole the Vote”.

Earlier on Tuesday, Vucic, who is the leader of the ruling Progressive party, SNS, said that people have the right to protest as long as they refrain from violence.

At least 15,000 people attended the rally in Belgrade, bringing traffic in the city to a standstill. Protesters marched from the parliament building to the Serbian public broadcaster and the government while blowing whistles and drums. Protesters lit, then placed an inflatable doll at the entrance and pelted the government building with eggs.

Aleksandar Balan told BIRN he came out to protest against the “obvious election theft that made voting useless”.

“There are almost seven million people registered to vote and Serbia's population is something over six million. Everybody knows who gets the votes of non-existing people,” said Balan, who is unemployed.

High school student Katarina Kovrlija said she does not know if the protests will change anything but that it “is important to try”.

“The winner of the election was buying votes, people sold their votes for sandwiches and a thousand dinars. The media only showed Aleksandar Vucic,” she claimed.

It is not clear who were the organisers of the Belgrade protest. The rally brought together both liberal activists, right-wing groups, citizens, students and supporters of Serbian opposition parties. No one wore any party insignia.

Nemanja Ristic, accused of plotting terrorist acts on 16 October in Montenegro, and former anti-terrorist police spokesperson Radomir Pocuca also attended the protest. Pocuca hit the headlines in Serbia when he travelled to eastern Ukraine to join up with Russian-backed rebels fighting against the Kiev government.

In the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad about 2,000 people took the streets at a protest organised by the Student’s Movement.

“We are not satisfied with [the] post-election situation. We now want to crush Vucic down and his Serbian Progressive Party and all parties who cooperate with them,” Katarina Antonic from the Student’s Movement told BIRN.

She added their organisation is not connected to those who organised protests in Belgrade, but said they probably would coordinate in future.

In the southern Serbian town of Nis, around 5,000 mainly young people who organised via social media took the streets demanding change. However, pensioners also joined the rally saying that they do not want their kids and grandchildren to leave the country for work.

Student Marijan Mitrovic told news agency Beta that young people want jobs and “opportunities” at home.

“We don’t [want a situation where] there are no jobs for us, but there are [jobs] for those with party membership,” Mitrovic said.

Around 1,000 people congregated in the central city of Kragujevac. Law student Marko Mitrovic told Beta that people are protesting against “media darkness, fascism and populism”.

“The same things are happening over and over for years, the same people, we must stop it. The same people are creating our future constantly. Serbia must be a better country [rather than a country] from which young people are leaving and criminals and thieves are staying,” he said.

Smaller protests attended by between several dozen and several hundred people were also held in Subotica, Zrenjanin, Krusevac, Leskovac, Lazarevac, Sombor, Pozarevac, Uzice, Bor, Cacak, Sabac and Kraljevo.

The protests came after an initial demonstration was held in Belgrade on Monday. Around 2,000 attended the protest which was also organised on social media.

Demonstrators claim Vucic's supporters rigged the presidential vote on Sunday. As Vucic won with a majority against a string of candidates, there will be no need to hold a second round of voting.

Ahead of the vote, NGOs engaged to monitor the elections voiced concerns over potential election fraud.

Independent election monitors - the Centre for Transparency, Research and Accountability, CRTA - noted irregularities at three per cent of polling stations. CRTA also said it had received reports from observers and voters about alleged pressure to vote for Vucic and also expressed fears over the possible abuse of public resources used to fund his campaign.

Opposition presidential candidates Sasa Jankovic, Luka Maksimovic [aka Ljubisa Preletacevic Beli] and Bosko Obradovic expressed support for the protest, asking the protesters to remain peaceful.

Organisers said more protests will be held across the country on Wednesday.

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