Tens of thousands protest growing wave of violence in Serbia
Tens of thousands of people gathered in the Serbian capital Belgrade on Friday, amid growing concern at rising levels of violence following two mass shootings that killed 18 people this month.
The rally marked the third major “Serbia against violence” protest in recent weeks, which has brought thousands to the streets calling for the resignation of top officials.
“We are in shock, disbelief and we are angry,” protester Jelena MiHajjlovic told the crowd gathered in front of the parliament on Friday. “And a question echoes with all of us — what kind of country are we leaving for our children?“
The protests are some of the largest rallies to rock Serbia since mass demonstrations triggered the fall of former strongman Slobodan Milosevic more than two decades ago.
The demonstrators want the government to revoke the broadcasting licenses of television channels promoting violent content, and a ban on pro-government newspapers that stir tensions by targeting political dissidents.
They have also called for the resignation of the interior minister and the head of the intelligence service.
On Friday, members of the pro-European opposition stormed out of a special session of parliament, accusing the ruling party and its allies of aiming to “silence the rally” rather than address the issues raised by the demonstrators.
“We don’t want to be a part of that ... we will join the citizens in the protest,” Zoran Lutovac, the president of the Democratic Party, told reporters.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has dismissed the protests as a “political” stunt.
He scheduled a separate demonstration for his own supporters next week that he has billed as “the biggest gathering in Serbian history.”
Vucic’s close ally Prime Minister Ana Brnabic has also accused “foreign intelligence services” of stirring unrest after the shootings to destabilize Serbia.
Following the shootings, Vucic has vowed to “disarm” Serbia with an ambitious plan that would crack down on legal and illicit firearms.
Serbia has the highest level of gun ownership in Europe, with roughly 39 out of 100 people owning firearms, according to the Small Arms Survey research group.