Tens of thousands of people marched through the Serbian capital Belgrade and blocked a key bridge Friday in the second major protest since two mass shootings rocked the Balkan country and killed 17 people, including many children.
Protesters gathered outside the parliament building before presenting the government headquarters building and on the highway bridge over the Sava River, where evening commuters had to turn their cars around to avoid getting stuck. At the head of the column was a black banner with the words “Serbia against violence”.
As protesters marched past government buildings, many chanted slogans condemning Serbia’s populist President Aleksandar Vucic, whom they blame for creating a climate of despair and division in the country that has indirectly led to the mass shooting.
“We are here to express a certain rebellion against everything that surrounds us now, but first of all the violence that has happened in the last … days and that has been around us in the last years,” said Nevena, a resident of Belgrade. Matich. .
Pro-government media criticized the blockade of the bridge, and “Novosti” daily wrote that “harassment has begun, hooligans have blocked the bridge.”
However, opposition politician Srjan Milivojevic told N1 TV that “this is a struggle for survival.” “If the president doesn’t understand his people, it’s time for him to resign.”
The police did not intervene. As night fell and the crowd began to disperse, organizers promised more protests if their demands were not met.
Before the protest, Mr. Vucic, who wields almost all the levers of power, said it amounted to “violence in politics” and “harassment” of citizens. But he said the police would not get involved “until people’s lives are in danger”.
“What gives them the right to block other people’s normal lives?” said Mr. Vucic, who accused opposition leaders of “misusing the tragedy” after the shootings, which deeply shocked the nation and sparked calls for change.
“They are harassing citizens and not allowing them to travel,” Mr. Vucic claimed. “But we don’t like to beat protesters like France and Germany do.”
The rally came about a week after an earlier protest in Belgrade, which also saw thousands rally in smaller towns and cities across the country. During that protest, demonstrators demanded the resignation of government ministers and the cancellation of the broadcasting licenses of two private television stations, which are close to the state and promote violence. They often host convicted war criminals and crime figures on their shows.
The two shootings took place within two days of each other, as a result of which 17 people were killed and 21 were injured. On May 3, a 13-year-old boy opened fire from his father’s gun at his school in the center of Belgrade. The next day, a 20-year-old man fired indiscriminately at one of the rural settlements south of the capital.
Opposition parties accuse Mr. Vučić’s populist government of inciting intolerance and hate speech while seizing all institutions. Mr. Vucic denied this. He has called his own rally in Belgrade on May 26, which he says will be “the biggest ever.”
“We don’t organize spontaneous rallies to play with people’s emotions,” insisted Mr. Vucic. Ours will be a rally of unity, when we will announce important political decisions.
Mr. Vucic also told reporters that citizens have turned in more than 9,000 guns since police announced a month-long amnesty for people to turn in unregistered guns and ammunition or face jail time.
Serbia is believed to be among the top countries in Europe when it comes to the number of weapons per capita, many of which are left over from wars in the 1990s. Other anti-gun measures in the wake of the shootings include a ban on new gun licenses, tighter controls on gun owners and shooting ranges, and tougher penalties for illegal gun possession.
This is reported by the Associated Press.