Tue, 16 Jul 2019

Thousands of Serbs took to the streets of Belgrade a week after demonstrators invaded and briefly occupied the state television building in protest against what they say is President Aleksandar Vucic's autocratic rule and biased media coverage of their demonstrations.

The protests on March 23 marked the 16th week of demonstrations against Vucics rule in the capital and in dozens of other towns and cities.

Thousands of people rallied in front of the Serbian radio-television building, demanding media freedom.

They carried red roses and candles in memory of journalists who have been killed in Serbia over the past 30 years.

On March 16, dozens of demonstrators led by the far-right opposition politician Bosko Obradovic broke into the headquarters of state broadcaster RTS demanding to be allowed on the air to address the nation.

Their demand was not met, and they were eventually driven out of the building by police, with at least 18 people being arrested. Some of the 18 spoke at the rally on March 23.

Most of the protesters are demanding Vucic's resignation, freedom of press, and fair elections.

But the protesters are a diverse group, with many pressing individual demands, and include leaders from the Alliance for Serbia, a loose grouping of about 30 parties and movements.

According to BalkanInsight, protest participants have over the past two years been made up of people from all sides of the political spectrum liberals, right-wingers, pro-West, pro-Russia, and pro-Europe supporters.

Protest organizers have resisted attempts by some far-right opposition politicians to take control of the demonstrations.

Adding to the emotional aspect of the events, Serbia is set to mark the 20th anniversary of NATOs bombing of Belgrade on March 24.

Serbia lost control over its Kosovo Province, which has since declared independence, after NATO forces 1999 bombing campaign conducted to stop the killing and expulsion of Albanians by Serb forces during a two-year counterinsurgency war.

After last weeks assault on the media building, Vucic vowed to defend law and order across the country.

Speaking at the presidential headquarters in downtown Belgrade on March 17 as thousands of demonstrators rallied around the building for several hours demanding his resignation, Vucic refused to bow to the pressure and said: 'I am not afraid.'

'I'm their target as I seek Serbia's political consolidation and economic development,' he said.

'There will be no more violence,' Vucic said. 'Serbia is a democratic country, a country of law and order and Serbia will know how to respond.'

The demonstrators chanted, 'He is finished!' -- a slogan of the October 2000 popular uprising that led to the ouster of the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

The weekly rallies began after unknown people beat up an opposition politician in November.

Protesters have been accusing Vucic of stifling democratic liberties, cracking down on political opponents, and controlling the media. He denies the accusations.

Long a nationalist, Vucic has attempted to remake himself as a pro-European Union reformer while seeking to maintain good relations with traditional ally Russia as well.

With reporting by AP, dpa, BalkanInsight, and Reuters

RFE/RL's Balkan Service

RFE/RL's Balkan Service promotes the values of democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression in a region where genuine media freedom remains elusive and where many media outlets remain divided along ethnic lines.

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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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