27 May 2023

Serbian president steps down as leader of party amid anti-government protests

27 May 2023

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has stepped down from the helm of his populist party amid plans to form a wider political movement and as he faces a wave of anti-government protests.

At his own proposal, Mr Vucic was replaced as the leader of the right-wing Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) by Milos Vucevic, who is currently the defence minister.

“Thank you for these 11 years,” Mr Vucic told a party gathering in the central Serbian town of Kragujevac on Saturday. “I am proud to have led the best party in Serbia for all these years.”

Mr Vucic first announced the change at a rally on Friday in Belgrade in front of tens of thousands of his supporters.

He has often faced criticism for remaining party leader while also holding the presidency of the country.

Mr Vucic said he will remain an SNS party member “as long as I live” and “won’t go anywhere from you”.

Thousands of people are expected at an opposition-led march on Saturday demanding resignations of top officials and the revoking of licences for pro-government media that air violent content and host crime figures and war criminals.

The protests in Belgrade and other Serbian cities are the biggest in years against Mr Vucic and his government.

They were organised in response to a pair of mass shootings earlier this month that left 18 people dead and 20 wounded, many of them children from an elementary school.

Critics accuse Mr Vucic and his party of having fuelled divisions in society and curbed democratic freedoms during his 11 years in power. He has denied this.

Mr Vucic said the new, national movement will be formed in June to include other parties, experts and prominent individuals and promote unity. Analysts say it is a bid to regroup following over a decade in power and mounting public pressure.

During the rally on Friday, Mr Vucic accused the opposition of abusing the mass shootings for political ends. He still offered dialogue as he seeks ways to ease mounting public pressure.

The killings stunned the nation, triggering calls for changes.

The protesters say Mr Vucic and his government were creating an atmosphere of violence with their hate speech against political opponents and relentless propaganda campaign in mainstream media.

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