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Tens of thousands in Serbia protest mass shootings, government policies


By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Tens of thousands braved rain and wind in Belgrade on Saturday in an anti-government protest over two mass shootings that killed 18 people, blaming the deaths on a culture of violence that critics say authorities have allowed to permeate society.

On May 3 a teenage boy killed nine pupils and a security guard in Belgrade in the first school mass shooting in Serbia, and a day later a 21-year-old man killed eight outside the city.

Opposition parties, which organised the rally, blame the government led by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of failing to rein in media that have promoted violence and to act against criminal elements in society.

It was the fourth such protest in as many weeks, with demonstrators turning up in similar numbers to the previous three rallies despite bad weather.

The crowd filled the streets around a compound housing the state broadcaster RTS, calling on President Aleksandar Vucic, Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic and Aleksandar Vulin, the director of Serbia’s security agency to resign. They also demanded more media freedoms.

“We have had enough and it is high time something changed,” said Janko, a protester from Belgrade.

The government denies opposition parties’ allegations, and accuses them of staging protests for political gain.

On Friday, tens of thousands of people bussed-in from across Serbia, neighbouring Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia and North Macedonia rallied in the centre of Belgrade in a show of support for Vucic.

“We are completely opposite to the people that were here yesterday … we are promoting entirely different values and we strive for change,” said Jelena, a woman in her 30s.

Opposition parties and rights watchdogs have long accused Vucic and the SNS of autocracy, stifling media freedoms, violence against political opponents, corruption and ties with organised crime. Vucic and his allies deny the accusations.

On Saturday Vucic stepped down as leader of the SNS, appointing defense minister Milos Vucevic as his successor. Vucic said he will remain the head of the state.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Clelia Oziel)

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