Protesters surround Serbia’s presidency, clash with police

Protesters surround Serbia’s presidency, clash with police
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic addresses the media as protests rage.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia March 17, 2019

Protesters surrounded Serbia’s presidency on March 17 while President Aleksandar Vucic was giving a press conference, and some of them clashed with the police.

This is the second day in a row when protests, which have been held every week for months, have turned violent. On March 16, protestors invaded the building of public broadcaster RTS.

Several thousand protestors, organised by the opposition Savez za Srbiju, wanted to prevent Vucic from leaving the building and pushed for his resignation.

According to the interior ministry, several of them, including Bosko Obradovic, one of Savez za Srbiju’s leaders, clashed with the police and seven were arrested for the attacks on RTS and police officers over the weekend. Obradovic led the group that broke into RTS’ building.

“He is finished!” protestors chanted. At the same time, Vucic addressed Serbians in a live broadcasted statement, calling opposition leaders fascists, hooligans and thieves.

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

"I am not afraid of thugs attacking us because I know that my job is to defend Serbia. I have nothing more important and bigger than that; to protect and defend Serbia from tycoon bullies and fascist thugs." 

He went on to claim that, "it seems to me that it is absolutely clear when they see that they get support from Pristina", the Kosovan capital. 

The protest ended in the afternoon without further clashes.

He added that, if protestors break in, he will be waiting for them, and claimed they were just 1,000 people. However, videos published by Savez za Srbiju showed the number of protestors was significantly higher.

The protests, which have taken place each Saturday since December 8 against what protesters say is Vucic's autocratic rule, have now entered their fourth month. Vucic was accused, among other things, of stifling democratic freedoms and the media.

The “1 of 5 million” protest was initially sparked by an attack on opposition politician Borko Stefanovic in the town of Krusevac a few months ago. They further escalated after Vucic said that he would not agree to protesters' demands even if there were five million people in the street.

Vucic, formerly a member of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party, joined the now governing SNS, formed by ex-deputy leader of the Radical Party, Tomislav Nikolic, in 2008. Vucic’s political orientation has changed dramatically, and he now prioritises reforms and Serbia’s entry to the EU.

Vucic was elected president in April 2017 and he took office in May last year. His election sparked protests across Serbia and he was accused of leading the country towards authoritarianism.