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Thousands gather in Belgrade to cheer Putin during his brief visit to Serbia

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By Cristina Abellan Matamoros  with REUTERS
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Thousands gather in Belgrade to cheer Putin during his brief visit to Serbia
Copyright  Reuters

Thousands gathered to in the streets of Belgrade, Serbia, to catch a glimpse of Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to the Serbian capital on Thursday.

The visit was scheduled in a bid to strengthen ties between the two countries.

Putin visited the Saint Sava Church — the biggest Orthodox church in Serbia — along with the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic.

Bystanders waved Serbian and Russian flags outside the church and held banners reading: "Thank you President Putin" in both languages, while main streets were closed off in preparation for the Russian president's arrival.

In a press conference earlier in the day, Putin said Russia would back Serbia in finding solutions to its issues with Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Belgrade has not recognised Kosovo's independence but has accepted the European Union requirement to normalise relations with the former province in order to join the bloc.

Although Serbia wishes to join the EU, it remains a close ally of Russia. The leaders are set to sign a variety of deals including energy and defence.

In an exchange of gifts, Vucic gave Putin a puppy while Putin awarded his counterpart with Russia's Order of Alexander Nevsky medal.