For the fifth time in a row, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Belgrade on Saturday evening, protesting against what they said was the rising autocratic rule of Serbia’s President and his party, the lack of freedom of expression and the regime’s control over the most of the media, N1 reported.
And for the first time since December 8, protests spread across the country with rallies taking place in the central town of Kragujevac, the southern city of Nis, the northern city of Novi Sad and western town of Pozega.
During the fourth protest, which, according to some estimates, saw up to 50,000 participants, Branislav Trifunovic, an actor who addressed the crowd every Saturday, told people that when asked who organised the protest the answer should be “(Serbia’s President Aleksandar) Vucic did.”
This evening, in the Belgrade freezing weather and ahead of the Orthodox Christmas, celebrated on January 7, people first listened to speeches delivered by Trifunovic and another actor Radoslav Milenkovic.
Trifunovic said, “Serbia is slowly rising, whole cities are rising, and there will be more of us.”
He asked the state RTS television director Dragan Bujosevic to resign since “you abused the office,” which, as he said, was a crime.
He accused Bujosevic of turning the RTS into regime’s mouthpiece.
Milenkovic thanked the crowd for coming. “Let me take this stupid hat off in respect to your bravery, your intellect and the wish to patiently show every Saturday your life is not good.”
The protests started four weeks ago after an opposition leader Borko Stefanovic was heavily beaten up by thugs with metal bars ahead of the Alliance for Serbia (SzS) opposition grouping rally in the central town of Krusevac.
The SzS blamed the violence on the “dirtiest witch-hunt which Vucic’s regime wages daily against political opponents”.
The next day, the first protest was held in Belgrade under the “Stop bloody shirts” slogan.
The perpetrators were quickly arrested and then released before the 30-day detention expired.
Later, the SzS leaders said the Alliance would boycott elections until its conditions for a fair vote were met.
During the Saturday’s march through central Belgrade’s streets after the speeches, as it has been the case every time, more people joined.
N1 reporter said thousands of people passed by her. The crowd filled the two-kilometer-long central route.
Official numbers are not published yet, but they are usually much lower.
Protesters carried Serbia’s flags and banners reading “It has begun”, “Stop to bloody shirts,” and the main banner “#1 in five million” in front of the crowd.
No parties' symbols were seen.
Ahead of the fifth protest, the organisers published demands on their Facebook profile, including a request to the Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic to “count the criminals, not the demonstrators”.
During the previous rally, protesters demanded Stefanovic's resignation.
Earlier demands included finding the killers of Kosovo Serb opposition leader Oliver Ivanovic, the attackers on journalists and opposition leaders and activists and five minutes of the RTS airtime for the opposition.
However, Vucic told the Pink television on Saturday the opposition lied and only wanted to grab power.
“They (opposition leaders) cannot break my strength. I will talk to people but not to those (opposition leaders) liars.”
Asked about the rallies, Vucic said “walk freely, long live democracy! Just don’t demolish anything.”
Earlier, Serbia’s former President Boris Tadic told the Danas daily that Vucic started making mistakes and that his rule was shaken up by the Saturdays' protests. He added Vucic "will not go peacefully."
After the first rally, Vucic said that “even if there were five million people in the street,” he would not cede to the opposition’s demands for electoral reform and increased media freedom. Thus the protests were renamed into #1 in five million.
Following the third gathering, he said he would listen to what people had to say.
The Belgrade crowd slightly changed the usual route this evening, stopping outside Vucis’s office for several minutes and then went to the RTS building, where Trifunovic’s recorded speech was run again.
The RTS main evening news reported about the rally in the 16th minute, with live shots and a part of Trifunovic’s address to the TV director. During the several-minute report, they also covered the protests in Nis and Kragujevac.
N1 broadcast the rally live on its Facebook page, while the Pink TV did not mention the protest in the first 30-minute of the main evening news.
A recent European Union report said that improving “the situation regarding freedom of expression and freedom of the media” is a prerequisite for joining the bloc.