Thousands of people gathered in the Serbian capital, shouting “Thieves!” and accusing the populist authorities of President Aleksandar Vucic of orchestrating fraud during the recent general elections.
The large rally in central Belgrade on Saturday capped nearly two weeks of street protests against reported widespread irregularities during the Dec. 17 parliamentary and local vote, which were also noted by international election observers.
The ruling Serbian Progressive Party was declared the winner of the election, but the main opposition alliance, Serbia Against Violence, claimed the election was stolen, particularly in the vote for the Belgrade city authorities.
EU WARNS SERBIA AND KOSOVO TO MAKE PEACE OR SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES
Serbia Against Violence has been leading daily protests since December 17 demanding the vote be canceled and the vote rerun. Tensions have flared after violent incidents and arrests of opposition supporters at a demonstration last weekend.
The crowd at Saturday’s rally roared in approval at the appearance of Marinika Tepic, a leading opposition politician who is on hunger strike after the polls. Tepic’s health was reportedly compromised and she was expected to be hospitalized after appearing at the rally.
“These elections must be repeated,” a frail Tepic told the crowd, waving weakly from the stage and saying she didn’t have the strength to make a longer speech.
Another opposition politician, Radomir Lazovic, urged the international community “not to be silent” and set up a commission to look into the irregularities and pressure the authorities to hold new free and fair elections.
After the speeches, participants marched from the headquarters of the state election commission to the Constitutional Court of Serbia, which will ultimately rule on election complaints.
A protester from Belgrade, Rajko Dimitrijevic, said he came to the rally because he felt “humiliated” and “serving the will of the people”.
KOSOVO ACCUSES SERBIA OF PARTNER IN RECENT TERROR ATTACK, FEEDING FEARS OF NEW BALKAN CONFLICT
Ivana Grobic, also from Belgrade, said she has always participated in protests “because I want a better life, I want the institutions of this country to do their job”.
It was not immediately clear if or when opposition protests would resume. Saturday’s rally was organized by an independent civic initiative, ProGlas, or Pro-Vote, which had campaigned for a high turnout before the polls.
Ruling party leader Milos Vucevic said the “small number of protesters” at the rally on Saturday showed “the people don’t want them (the opposition.)”.
The opposition called for an international investigation into the vote after representatives of several global observers reported multiple irregularities, including cases of vote buying and ballot box stuffing.
Local election observers also claimed that voters from all over Serbia and neighboring countries were registered and bussed to vote in Belgrade. Vucic and his party have dismissed the reports as “fabricated”.
Saturday’s rally was symbolically held in a central area of Belgrade that in the early 1990s was the scene of protests against the warmongering and anti-democratic policies of strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
Critics today say Vucic, who was an ultranationalist ally of Milosevic in the 1990s, has restored that autocracy in Serbia since taking power in 2012, taking full control of the media and all state institutions.
Vucic said the election was fair and his party won. He has accused the opposition of inciting violence in the protests with the aim of toppling the government with instructions from abroad, which opposition leaders have denied.
On Sunday night, protesters tried to enter Belgrade’s city hall, breaking windows, before police pushed them back using tear gas, pepper spray and batons. Police arrested at least 38 people.
Serbia is officially seeking to join the European Union, but the Balkan nation has maintained close ties to Moscow and has refused to participate in Western sanctions imposed on Russia over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
Russian officials have fully backed Vucic in his crackdown on protesters and supported his claims that the vote was free and fair.