BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbs protested in Belgrade on Saturday against President Aleksandar Vucic and his ruling Serbian Progressive Party.
Protesters participate in a protest rally against the government in Belgrade (Serbia, December 29, 201
Thousands of people sang "Vucic Thief" as they marched peacefully through the city center in the fourth protest for so many weeks. They demanded freedom of the media, an end to the attacks on journalists and opposition politicians.
Proponents of the Alliance for Serbia, an opposition group of 30 parties and organizations, say Vucic is an autocrat and his party is corrupt, which their leaders vehemently deny.
In an interview with pro-government studio B TV during the protest Vucic said he was ready to discuss the demands of the opposition.
"I'm ready to see what makes people too contradictory," he said after a group of demonstrators mocked him as he entered the TV station's building.
Previously, Vucic had said he would be willing to test the popularity of his party in a snap vote, although Vuk Jeremic, a former foreign minister and leader of the small People's Party, part of the Alliance, said the opposition would boycott any election.
"In Serbia, there will be no legitimate elections with the participation of the opposition until normal conditions for elections and life are created," Jeremic said.
According to a CESID election observers poll in October, Vucic's SNS enjoys the support of 53.3 percent of voters, while other parties lag far behind.
If the opposition was seen as an alliance and not as individual parties, they could count on around 15 percent of the vote. Their joint participation in a vote has yet to be agreed, and they have so far agreed only in their hostility to Vucic and his party.
The SNS-led governing coalition has a comfortable majority of 160 MPs in the 250-seat parliament. The next national elections are due in 2020.
Opposition protests have been relatively rare in Serbia since the riots that displaced former strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
Most opposition leaders served in successive pro-Western coalitions led Serbia between 2000 and 2012, when SNS forged a coalition with the socialists of Milosevic and came to power.
Vucic, a nationalist fire brigade during the violent collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, championed pro-European values and established Serbia's membership of the European Union as a strategic goal for the country. He maintains close relations with Russia and China.
Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Alison Williams