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Police in Serbia fire tear gas at election protesters threatening to storm capital’s city hall

by Joshua Brown
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Election Protests

In Serbia, law enforcement deployed tear gas in response to demonstrators threatening to breach the city council building in the capital. The protesters, predominantly opposition supporters, voiced their grievances regarding alleged widespread irregularities in the recent general election, as reported by election observers. This election, which occurred the previous weekend, has become a focal point of contention.

Serbia’s President, Aleksandar Vucic, characterized the unrest as an externally orchestrated attempt to overthrow the government. He stated that over 35 individuals were apprehended during the protests and hinted at more detentions to come. Vucic, speaking on the pro-government Pink TV, asserted that this event constituted an endeavor to violently seize the state institutions of the Republic of Serbia.

However, Serbia’s authorities, aligned with populist sentiments, have consistently denied any manipulation of the election results. They maintain that the parliamentary and local office elections were conducted fairly. President Vucic firmly dismissed claims of irregularities as “lies” propagated by political opposition.

Vucic suggested external instigation as the root cause of the unrest but did not provide substantiated evidence to substantiate this assertion. Addressing the nation via state media amidst the protests outside Belgrade’s city hall, he referred to the demonstrators as “thugs” who would not succeed in destabilizing the state. Vucic emphasized, “This is not a revolution,” and pledged a restrained approach to avoid harm to peaceful protesters.

Initially, shielded riot police fortified themselves within the city government building, employing tear gas and pepper spray as opposition protesters breached the entrance, shattering windows. Subsequently, the police dispersed the crowd from the downtown area and executed several arrests.

Protesters chanted slogans such as “Open the door” and “Thieves” while pelting the building with eggs and stones. Some drew comparisons between President Vucic and Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, by chanting “Vucic is Putin.”

Nebojsa Zelenovic, a key figure in the opposition Serbia Against Violence alliance, reported a significant police presence throughout downtown Belgrade, including on rooftops. This area encompasses the national parliament, the presidential headquarters, and the city government.

There have been no immediate reports of injuries resulting from these events.

The election results, announced on December 17th, indicated a victory for President Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party in both the parliamentary and Belgrade city ballots. However, Serbia Against Violence, the primary rival party, contends that it was unjustly deprived of victory, particularly in Belgrade. They vow to persist in their struggle.

An observation mission, comprised of representatives from international human rights organizations, documented numerous irregularities, including instances of vote buying and ballot box tampering. Additionally, the observers noted an uneven playing field for opposition candidates due to media bias, the misuse of public resources, and the president’s dominant presence during the campaign.

“Police are everywhere, also on the roofs. It is obvious that they do not want to recognize (the) election results. We will continue with our fight,” declared Nebojsa Zelenovic, one of the leaders of the alliance.

This election has generated significant political tensions in Serbia, a Balkan nation striving for both closer ties with Russia and European Union membership. Serbia Against Violence, in a letter addressed to EU institutions, officials, and member nations, asserted their refusal to recognize the election’s outcome. They implored the EU to follow suit and initiate an investigation into the matter.

(Contributions to this report were made by Jovana Gec, a writer from Big Big News.)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Election Protests

What were the reasons behind the protests in Serbia?

The protests in Serbia stemmed from allegations of widespread vote irregularities during a recent general election. Opposition supporters expressed their concerns over the fairness of the election results.

What actions did the Serbian government take in response to the protests?

The Serbian government deployed riot police who used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the protesters and protect government buildings. President Vucic accused the protesters of attempting to overthrow the government and promised arrests.

Were there any reported injuries during the protests?

There were no immediate reports of injuries resulting from the protests.

What were the election results in Serbia, and why are they contentious?

The election results, announced on December 17th, indicated a victory for President Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party in both parliamentary and Belgrade city ballots. The opposition, particularly the Serbia Against Violence alliance, contested the results, alleging unfair practices such as vote buying and media bias.

What role did international observers play in this situation?

International observers, representing human rights organizations, documented multiple irregularities during the election, including instances of bought votes and the stuffing of ballot boxes. They also highlighted unfair conditions for opposition candidates due to media bias and the president’s dominance in the campaign.

How has this situation affected Serbia’s political landscape and its aspirations for EU membership?

The election has intensified political tensions in Serbia, a nation seeking both closer ties with Russia and European Union membership. Serbia Against Violence, the opposition alliance, declared their refusal to recognize the election results and called on the EU to initiate an investigation.

Is there any evidence to support President Vucic’s claim of external instigation?

President Vucic suggested that the unrest was externally orchestrated but did not provide concrete evidence to substantiate this claim.

What is the stance of the Serbian government on the allegations of election irregularities?

The Serbian government, led by President Vucic and his party, has consistently denied any wrongdoing and has maintained that the elections were conducted fairly. They have characterized claims of irregularities as “lies” propagated by the political opposition.

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