Protests in Serbia turned violent on March 16 as opposition leaders and their supporters invaded the building of public broadcaster RTS, while in Montenegro thousands went out on the streets once again to demand the resignation of President Milo Djukanovic.
In Serbia, thousands have been protesting against President Aleksandar Vucic for months, but on March 16 for the first time they became violent, breaking into RTS’ building, demanding to be given the opportunity to address people and present their cause.
Serbia’s Interior Minister Nebojsa Stevanovic called on protesters to stop breaking the law and leave the RTS building, while other ministry representatives asked the protest leaders to take people out of the building peacefully. However, one of the organisers, Bosko Obradovic who is one of the leaders of the opposition Savez za Srbiju, told his supporters not to resist the police but to stay in the building.
After the police intervention, the situation calmed down, but the incident has raised mixed reactions among people as some of say they will only back peaceful protests.
Meanwhile, Aleksandar Jovicic, a member of the ruling SNS, said the organisers are attempting to provoke chaos.
This is not the first time the protesters have targeted RTS. A week earlier, they surrounded the building, seeking more media freedom.
Protests, which have taken place each Saturday since December 8 against what protesters say is the autocratic rule of President Aleksandar Vucic, have now entered the fourth month. Vucic was accused, among other things, of stifling democratic freedoms and 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.
Meanwhile, in neighbouring Montenegro, several thousand gathered for the fifth time to seek the resignation of Djukanovic and the government over widespread corruption and alleged links to organised crime.
Civic activists, academics, students and journalists who say they are not affiliated with any political party, again chanted “Milo thief”, “No more crime”, “Rebellion” and “We are the state”.
The protestors are officially organised by an informal group of intellectuals under the slogan “97,000 - resist!”. They blame Djukanovic for the poor status of human rights and media freedom in the country, as well as for the widespread top-level corruption.
Djukanovic has been ruling the country for some 30 years, as either president or prime minister.
Moreover, Djukanovic is seen as the West’s man as he has been pushing for the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration. On the other hand, the main opposition party – the Democratic Front – is pro-Russian and against the EU and Nato.
Djukanovic led the country to independence from Serbia in 2006 and to Nato membership in 2017, defying Russia’s pressure.
The latest series of protests was triggered by accusations of corruption from the owner of two troubled local banks. In January, Dusko Knezevic, who owns Atlas Banka and Invest Banka Montenegro, provoked a scandal in the tiny country, accusing Djukanovic of corruption and claiming a warrant was issued for his arrest upon pressure from a clan related to the president. He claims that the president and his family are trying to take over his businesses and properties along Montenegro’s Adriatic coast.
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