Sun, 21 Apr 2019

Thousands of people have gathered in Belgrade for the sixth week of street protests against Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, whom they accuse of stifling media freedoms and suppressing the opposition.

As they marched through central Belgrade on January 12, the protesters shouted slogans such as 'Betrayal, betrayal!' And 'Vucic is a thief.' Some carried banners reading 'Rise Serbia' or 'It's started.'

Smaller protests were held in the cities of Novi Sad, Kraguejevac, Kursumlija, Krusevac, Uzice, and Pozega, RTS state television reported.

Demonstrations first started after thugs beat up opposition politician Borko Stefanovic in November, prompting calls for more democracy and an end to political violence in Serbia.

An umbrella group of opposition parties called the Alliance for Serbia blamed Vucic's Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) for the attack on Stefanovic. Authorities deny involvement.

Critics say Vucic has fostered an atmosphere of fear and hate speech against opponents, while seeking to tighten his rule. They accuse the SNS of being corrupt. Vucic denies the allegations.

Officially, the president in Serbia plays a largely ceremonial role, but Vucic's SNS has dominated the legislature since 2012.

Vucic was elected to a five-year term as president in 2017 after holding the post of prime minister.

A former nationalist, Vucic is now guiding Serbia toward membership in the European Union. He has also sought to maintain ties with traditional ally Russia and to develop relations with China.

Vucic has said he will not give in to opposition demands for electoral reform and increased media freedom regardless of the number of protesters on the streets, although he has suggested he might call a snap vote to demonstrate his party's strength.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, and AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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