Protests are a core value and characteristic of democracy, but they ought to be calm, the European Commission (EC) said after another weekend of demonstrations in Belgrade, the Serbian news agency Beta reported on Monday.
The protests against President Aleksandar Vucic and his Progressive Serbian Party (SNS), which began in December last year and have been held every weekend in a growing number of cities across Serbia, have been largely peaceful until last Saturday, when protesters briefly entered the building of the state broadcaster RTS, demanding air time and calling for the RTS director, Dragan Bujosevic, to resign. They were later removed from the building by the Serbian anti-riot police.
The protest continued on Sunday, when the demonstrators rallied in front of the Serbian Presidency building in central Belgrade. The police had formed cordons at the entrances to the building and put up metal fencing, but the protesters managed to batter down the barriers in an attempt to get close to the offices of President Vucic.
The rally in front of the presidency broke up after some two hours when Bosko Obradovic, leader of the opposition nationalist Dveri party, called the crowd to march to the central police station to demand the release of several young men who had been arrested over the RTS incident and during Sunday’s protest.
The protesters' demands have remained the same in the three months of protests: Vucic's resignation, more media freedom, and fair and free elecions on all levels. The country's opposition group Alliance for Serbia, which brings together a few dozen opposition parties and organisations, gave the government and the president a 30-day deadline to step down or face a large-scale rally in Belgrade on April 13.
"We want elections at all levels within six to nine months, during which the media would be free and all opposition demands for a fair elections are met," the opposition said.
Speaking to Euractiv, EC spokesperson Maja Kocijancic said the protests should remain peaceful and within the law.
"Calm and restraint are essential," Kocijancic said, adding the parliament should be the place for debate and discussion, with a view to finding joint solutions and addressing public concerns. “A structured dialogue with civil society is also essential.”
The majority of Serbia's opposition parties boycott the parliaments' sessions both on the national and local level, claiming they are treated unfairly by the ruling coalition led by President Aleksandar Vucic, and that they are not given enough discussion time in the assembly, which contrary to the rules.
On Monday, the country's Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic, said the rallies have not rocked the government, and accused Obradovic of taking over the protest and preventing other citizens from demonstrating peacefully.
"The protests have been going on for weeks, and there hasn’t been any violence. We will ensure the people have the right to demonstrate peacefully, but Obradovic doesn’t want peaceful protests,” she added.
Vucic has previously rejected the opposition's claims that the democracy in the country was deteriorating, and offered to call a snap election, which some opposition parties said they would boycott under the existing rules.