Monday, 22 Apr 2024

Tens of thousands march against Serbian leadership after mass shootings

Tens of thousands of protesters have marched through Belgrade after mass shootings left 17 people dead in Serbia.

People gathered in front of the parliament building yesterday before filing past the government’s headquarters and on to a motorway bridge over the Sava River, which they blocked.

Commuters heading home for the evening were forced to turn around to avoid getting stuck.

Protesters say populist president Aleksandar Vucic and his government have created an atmosphere of hopelessness and division that indirectly lead to two mass shootings in as many days last week.

On May 3, a 13-year-old boy used his father’s gun to open fire at his school in central Belgrade. The next day, a 20-year-old man randomly fired at people in a rural area south of the capital.

The attacks left 17 people dead – many of them children – and 21 wounded.

At the front of the protest a large banner was held saying: ‘Serbia Against Violence’.

Pro-government media criticised the bridge blockade, with the Novosti daily newspaper reporting that ‘harassment has begun, hooligans have blocked the bridge’.

But opposition politician Srdjan Milivojevic told television station N1 that ‘this is a battle for survival’.

He said: ‘If the president does not understand his people, it’s time he resigned.’

Police did not intervene.

Ahead of the protest, Mr Vucic, who holds nearly all the levers of power, said it amounted to ‘violence in politics’ and the ‘harassment’ of citizens.

But he said police would not get involved ‘unless people’s lives are in danger’.

‘What gives them the right to block other people’s normal lives?’ said Mr Vucic, who accused opposition leaders of ‘abusing the tragedy’ following the shootings that deeply rattled the nation and prompted calls for change.

‘They are harassing citizens and not allowing them to travel,’ Mr Vucic insisted. ‘But we don’t like to beat protesters, like France and Germany do.’

The protest came almost a week after another rally in Belgrade that also drew thousands and demonstrations in smaller towns and cities around the country.

At that protest, demonstrators demanded the resignations of government ministers and the withdrawal of broadcast licences for two private TV stations which are close to the state and promote violence.

They often host convicted war criminals and crime figures on their programmes.

Opposition parties have accused Mr Vucic’s populist government of fuelling intolerance and hate speech while taking hold of all institutions.

Mr Vucic has denied this.

He has called his own rally for May 26 in Belgrade that he said would be the ‘biggest ever’.

‘We do not organise spontaneous rallies in order to play with people’s emotions,’ Mr Vucic insisted.

‘Ours will be a rally of unity, when we will announce important political decisions.’

Mr Vucic also told reporters that citizens had handed in more than 9,000 weapons since police announced a one-month amnesty for people to surrender unregistered guns and ammunition or face possible prison sentences after that period.

Serbia is estimated to be among the top countries in Europe when it comes to the number of guns per capita, many of them left over from the wars in the 1990s.

Other anti-gun measures after the shootings include a ban on new gun licences, stricter controls on gun owners and shooting ranges, and tougher punishments for the illegal possession of weapons.

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