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Thousands protest against Serbian president

By Reuters - Dec 30,2018 - Last updated at Dec 30,2018

Demonstrators attend an anti-government protest in central Belgrade, Serbia, on Saturday (Reuters photo)

BELGRADE — Serbians protested against President Aleksandar Vucic and his ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in downtown Belgrade on Saturday.

Thousands of people chanted ‘‘Vucic thief’’ as they marched peacefully through the city centre in the fourth such protest in as many weeks. They demanded media freedoms, an end to attacks on journalists and opposition politicians.

Backers of the Alliance for Serbia, an opposition grouping of 30 parties and organisations, say Vucic is an autocrat and his party is corrupt, something its leaders vehemently deny.

In an interview with the pro-government Studio B TV during the protest, Vucic said he was ready to discuss the opposition demands. 

‘‘I am ready to look at what causes dissent of the people,’’ he said, after being jeered by a group of protesters as he entered the television station building.

Vucic earlier suggested he was willing to test his party’s popularity in a snap vote, although Vuk Jeremic, a former foreign minister and the head of the small People’s Party, part of the alliance, said the opposition would boycott any election.

‘‘There will be no legitimate elections in Serbia with the participation of the opposition until after normal conditions for elections and living are created,’’ Jeremic said.

According to a poll by the Belgrade-based CESID election watchdog in October, Vucic’s SNS enjoys the backing of 53.3 per cent of electorate while other parties are trailing far behind. 

If the opposition ran as an alliance, rather than individual parties, they could count on around 15 per cent of the vote. Their joint participation in a vote has yet to be agreed and so far they are only united in their animosity to Vucic and his party.

The SNS-led ruling coalition has a comfortable majority of 160 deputies in the 250-seat parliament. The next national election is due in 2020. 

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