Anti-government protests continue in Belgrade, first held in north Mitrovica

NEWS 02.02.2019 18:43
Source: N1

For the ninth Saturday in a row thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Belgrade in a protest against what they said was the rising autocratic rule of Serbia’s President and his party, unfair election rules and the regime’s control over the most of the media, N1 reported.

The first protest was held in the northern part of the divided Kosovo Mitrovica town where local Serbs create a majority.

The turnout was low, as the organisers predicted after Belgrade and its mouthpiece in Kosovo the Serb List political organisation condemned the announced gathering, saying Mitrovica was not a place for divisions, adding the protest would be hailed in Pristina and other areas with the Albanian majority.

One of the organises, Marko Jaksic received threats on a social network after announcing the rally. “You, my friend should be hanged in Terazije”(central Belgrade street), someone tweeted from the “Balkanfox” account.

KoSSev website reported that about a hundred people gathered and walked to the place where Oliver Ivanovic, one of the Kosovo Serb opposition leaders was assassinated on January 16, 2018. Escorted by a dozen policemen, they lit candles outside Ivanovic’s office.

 As usual, the leaders of the opposition did not address the crowd in Belgrade, and other places were people demonstrated.

After the first rally, President Aleksandar 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.

Earlier in the day, the students of the Political Sciences Faculty called on all colleagues in Serbia to join them in the protest.

“Aleksandar Vucic, you are the symbol of manipulation, nepotism, party employment, destruction of freedoms and attacks on those who think differently,” the students’ manifesto said in the invitation to their mates.

They also demanded the resignation of the Education Minister Mladen Sarcevic who said that among over 600 academics who signed a petition in support of the protest there were no relevant names and that 600 wasn’t a significant number.

Marija Bogdanovic, a Philosophy Faculty professor, told the crowd the number of her colleagues who support the demonstrations was on the rise, receiving a big round of applause.

Marko Selic Marcelo, an artist, told Vucic if he wanted five million, he would get it.

“Remember, Aleksandar Vucic, the hatred never wins,” he told the erupting crowd.

During this Saturday walk, the organisers left three boxes outside Vucic’s office for people to write to him what they demonstrated against “in case he does not understand” the reason.

The protests under the #1 in 5 million slogan spread across the country, and people had been gathering in over 30 places in Serbia.

On Friday, rallies were held in Novi Sad, Nis, Krusevac, with protest walks organised in Cacak, Uzice, Vranje, Zajecar, Vrsac, and other places.

Novi Sad saw the largest crowd so far, under the “Novi Sad must be free city” slogan, ending in a call for the next Friday’s rally.

The protests started last November 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” motto. Since December 8, they became regular.

So far, Vucic mainly ignored the protests, saying the opposition was behind them and offered them fresh election to measure their strength, though the opposition leaders did not ask for any vote and the majority of the parties said they would boycott it if held under the current rules.

“They (opposition leaders) cannot break my strength. I will talk to people but not to those (opposition leaders) liars. Walk freely, long live democracy! Just don’t demolish anything,” he said weeks ago.

Earlier demands included finding Ivanovic’s killers, organisers of the assassination and the mastermind behind it, the attackers on journalists and opposition leaders and activists and five minutes of the RTS air time for the opposition.

The European Union has said that improving “the situation in freedom of expression and freedom of the media” is a prerequisite for joining the bloc.