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Thousands flood the streets of Belgrade in fourth straight weekend of anti-government protests

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By Jorgen Samso & Michael-Ross Fiorentino
Thousands flood the streets of Belgrade in fourth straight weekend of anti-government protests
Copyright  REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Thousands of people took to the streets of the Serbian capital Saturday night in protest against the sitting government and its de facto leader President Aleksandar Vucic.

The protestors chanted “Vucic thief” as they marched peacefully through Belgrade's city centre in the fourth such protest in as many weeks, according to Reuters.

The opposition movement - Protest Against Dictatorship - are calling for electoral reform and freedom in the media and against what they see as an increasingly autocratic rule by the sitting president.

“I support these people, my people, my country, against the dictatorship and the violence conducted by the government,” says protestor Dalibor Kocic.

“Everything is wrong,” added another protestor Natasha Vranic, “We don’t have freedom in the media. We don’t have freedom for journalists.”

Backers of the Alliance for Serbia, an opposition grouping of 30 parties and organisations, say Vucic is an autocrat and his party is corrupt, something its leaders vehemently deny.

Protesters leading the march carried a banner reading "#1OF5MILLION" in reference to an earlier statement by Vucic that he would not bow to demands even if five million protesters took to the streets.

The protests were ignited when a leader of the opposition Serbian Left party, Borko Stefanovic, was assaulted at an opposition meeting in the city of Krusevac in late November.

It then developed into a broader call for an end to political violence and for free and fair elections.

A week ago, there were an estimated 35,000-40,000 people on the streets – this time the number has risen to 50,000 according to local media. Serbia has a population of seven million.

President Vucic has denied all accusations of involvement in the attack on the politician that started the protest.

Vucic has also said he is ready to call another vote. The next Serbian parliamentary election is scheduled for April 2020.

According to a poll by the Belgrade-based CESID election watchdog in October, Vucic’s party holds 53.3% of the electorate while other parties are trailing far behind.

The SNS-led ruling coalition has a comfortable majority of 160 deputies in the 250-seat parliament.

Serbians will now see if the opposition movement can keep building momentum to influence the sitting government - and President Vucic - to change.

Following the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1992, Vucic joined the far-right Serbian Radical Party (SRS), whose core ideology is based on Serbian nationalism.

As president of Serbia, Vucic has adopted pro-European values and set Serbia’s membership in the European Union as the country’s strategic goal. Vucic also maintains close ties to Russia and China.