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Serbs surrender 8,500 weapons in disarmament campaign after double shooting spree

People light candles for the victims in front of the Vladimir Ribnikar school in Belgrade, Serbia. 4 May 2023
People light candles for the victims in front of the Vladimir Ribnikar school in Belgrade, Serbia. 4 May 2023 Copyright Darko Vojinovic/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Darko Vojinovic/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Una Hajdari
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An unprecedented campaign of disarmament has taken place across Serbia, following last week's double shooting spree that sparked protests and calls for tighter controls on violent content in media outlets.

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As part of an anti-gun crackdown following two mass shootings last week, Serbian citizens have handed over nearly 8,500 unregistered weapons in the first three days of a month-long amnesty period where no one will be charged for illegal gun possession, according to a statement by President Aleksandar Vučić.

"We collected 8,500 pieces of various weapons, 784 mine-explosive devices, that is, bombs and mortars. 398,450 pieces of ammunition of various calibres," Vučić said in an Instagram video.

Two mass shootings in Serbia last week killed 17 people and wounded 21, many of them children. For the first time ever in Serbia, a shooting took place in a school.

Authorities have told citizens to give up unregistered weapons by 8 June or face prison sentences. Other anti-gun measures include a ban on new gun licenses, stricter controls on gun owners and shooting ranges, and tougher punishments for the illegal possession of weapons.

The president also announced that around 156 psychologists and psychiatrists be assigned schools across the country to help them "overcome any problems they might face after the terrible massacre we experienced," said Vučić.

Darko Vojinovic/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
People hold a banner with writing reading: "Serbia against violence" during a march against violence in Belgrade, Serbia. 8 May 2023.Darko Vojinovic/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Protests against the glorification of violence

On Monday, thousands of Serbians marched in silence to express their grief and anger at the populist government's response to last week's deadly shootings.

The gatherings in Belgrade and the northern city of Novi Sad were dubbed “Serbia against violence.” Opposition parties demanded the resignation of government ministers and the withdrawal of licenses from pro-government outlets who often promote violence ,and regularly feature convicted war criminals and criminal figures in their programming.

A few protesters passed the government headquarters in Belgrade after the rally officially ended, chanting slogans against Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and demanding that he step down.

In an interview with the pro-government Happy television channel, the president called the protest "shameful." He accused the opposition of abusing the widespread grief that has swept the country since last week.

The shootings — on Wednesday in Belgrade at an elementary school, and on Thursday in a rural area south of the capital — have left the nation stunned. There have been calls to launch a national reckoning on gun violence and rid society of widespread hate speech and the culture of possessing weapons stemming from the Yugoslav disintegration wars of the 1990s.

Serbia is estimated to be among the top countries in Europe when it comes to gun possession per capita.

Students offer their own solution

Following the shooting at the "Vladislav Ribnikar" Elementary School in Belgrade, students at First Belgrade High School presented their ideas for resolving the situation. The state was also urged to increase teachers' salaries and make it easier for them to deal with rowdy and disruptive students.

"This is truly an indescribable tragedy that should serve as the final slap in the face and a warning to our society to wake up. We are young and the responsibility to change the system lies on our shoulders," the statement said.

The school shooter was a 13-year-old boy who used his father's gun to open fire on his fellow students at an elementary school in central Belgrade last Wednesday.

"We demand that the punishments that students receive due to inappropriate behavior be tightened so that they are more aware of the consequences of what they do... we also request that the threshold for expelling students from school be reduced, as this can deter students from making bad decisions," it continued.

The proposals also include systematic mental health screenings for students, bans on violent reality shows, stricter controls on media content, and prohibiting newspaper front pages promoting violence.

Additional sources • AP

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