Thousands of people on Saturday rallied in Belgrade against President Aleksandar Vucic who they accuse of authoritarianism and muzzling the media.
Police put the number of demonstrators at 7,500, while the opposition estimated tens of thousands had turned out.
Today’s #1od5miliona protest in Belgrade has drawn citizens from across Serbia, including the city of Kragujevac and municipality of Mladenovac. pic.twitter.com/D1IaRCfjNY
— Balkan Insight (@BalkanInsight) April 13, 2019
Protests have been held weekly in the Balkan country since December against what critics describe as Vucic’s slide towards autocratic rule.
Protesters blew whistles and chanted “thieves, thieves!” as speakers, who addressed the crowd, accused the regime of corruption and oppression of media freedoms.
The crowd then marched from the national parliament to the government building.
Local media reported that in many Serbian cities and towns transport companies had refused to rent buses to opposition supporters, fearing reprisals from the authorities.
Vucic, an ultra-nationalist-turned-pro European, has rejected claims he has become autocratic. In response to Saturday’s protest he has scheduled rally of his own supporters for next Friday in Belgrade.
Anti-government protests continue in #Belgrade #Serbia
LIVE: https://t.co/sU0ZH9b6jT pic.twitter.com/awavLKnOKP
— Ruptly (@Ruptly) April 13, 2019
Despite the protests, Vucic’s SNS party dominates the political arena. Serbia’s divided opposition has little in common other than an aversion to the president.
According to a survey published earlier this week, nearly 55 percent of voters would vote for the SNS if legislative elections were held now.
The opposition Alliance for Serbia coalition, an umbrella group of opposition parties from across the political spectrum, would receive 11.8 percent of the vote, the Faktor Plus survey showed.
Parliamentary elections are due in 2020.
Serbia, which aspires to join the EU in 2025, was criticised by the European Commission last year over press freedoms in the country, denouncing threats, intimidation and violence against journalists.
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Protests can easily become radicalized as it has happened Serbia and Albania. Demonstrations can be hijacked by the nationalistic opposition, which will make the Kremlin happy. Neither of these is a recipe to success, Vesko Garcevic, Professor of the Practice of IR at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at the Boston University, has warned.
Could Wave of Protests in the Balkans Finally Bring About Change?