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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 January 2019

Protests against Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic enter sixth week

Demonstrations take place before Russia's Vladimir Putin visits Belgrade on Thursday

A man flies a Serbian flag during a protest march against President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade. AP.
A man flies a Serbian flag during a protest march against President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade. AP.

Thousands of Serbs protested in Belgrade on Saturday against President Aleksandar Vucic and his Serbian Progressive Party, demanding more media freedom, an end to attacks on journalists and opposition figures, and no secret treaty with Kosovo.

The demonstrators, brought together by the Alliance for Serbia – a loose grouping of 30 opposition parties and organisations – chanted "Vucic, thief!" in the sixth such protest in as many weeks.

The opposition rally came before Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit scheduled for Thursday.

Although Mr Vucic says EU membership remains Serbia's ultimate goal, he maintains close ties with Russia, a long-time Slavic and Orthodox Christian ally.

Mr Putin's visit is seen as a popularity boost for Mr Vucic and his ruling coalition, and his supporters scheduled a major rally for Thursday to welcome the Russian president.

Protesters in Belgrade accused Mr Vucic of preparing a settlement with for former Serb province of Kosovo, a key precondition for Serbia to join EU. Belgrade enjoys Russia's backing in its opposition to Kosovo's 2008 independence declaration, almost a decade after the 1998-1999 war there.

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Protesters also demanded that the government find those responsible for the killing of Oliver Ivanovic, a prominent Kosovo Serb politician, a year ago. They also announced a rally in Belgrade for next Wednesday to commemorate his death.

In December, Mr Vucic claimed he would not bow to opposition demands "even if there were five million people in the street", but said he would be willing to hold a snap election. Opposition parties said they would boycott such an election.

Mr Vucic has the backing of about 53 per cent of the electorate. His coalition also has a majority of 160 deputies in the 250-seat parliament. If the opposition parties ran as an alliance, they could count on about 15 per cent of the vote.

Updated: January 13, 2019 09:52 AM

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