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30 December 2023

Thousands accuse Serbia’s ruling populists of election fraud at Belgrade rally

30 December 2023

Thousands of people have rallied in Serbia’s capital, chanting “Thieves!” and accusing the populist authorities of President Aleksandar Vucic of orchestrating a fraud during a recent general election.

The rally in central Belgrade capped nearly two weeks of street protests against reported widespread irregularities during the December 17 parliamentary and local elections which were also noted by international election observers.

The ruling Serbian Progressive Party was declared the election winner but the main opposition alliance, Serbia Against Violence, claims the election was stolen, particularly in the vote for the Belgrade city authorities.

Serbia Against Violence has led daily protests since December 17 demanding that the vote be annulled and rerun. Tensions have soared after violent incidents and arrests of opposition supporters at a protest last weekend.

The crowd at the rally on Saturday roared in approval at the appearance of Marinika Tepic, a leading opposition politician who has been on a hunger strike since the ballot.

Ms Tepic’s health has reportedly been jeopardised and she was expected to be admitted to hospital after appearing at the rally.

“These elections must be rerun,” a frail-looking Ms Tepic told the crowd, waving feebly from the stage and saying she did not have the strength to make a longer speech.

Another opposition politician, Radomir Lazovic, urged the international community “not to stay silent”, and to put pressure on Mr Vucic to hold a new election in free and fair conditions.

After the speeches, participants marched by the headquarters of the state electoral commission towards Serbia’s Constitutional Court which will ultimately rule on electoral complaints.

Protester Rajko Dimitrijevic said he came to the rally because he felt “humiliation” and the “doctoring of the people’s will”.

Ivana Grobic said she had always joined protests “because I want a better life, I want the institutions of this country to do their job”.

Ruling party leader Milos Vucevic said the “small number of demonstrators” at the rally on Saturday showed that “people don’t want them”.

It was not immediately clear if opposition protests would resume. The rally on Saturday was organised by an independent civic initiative, ProGlas (pro-vote) which had campaigned for high turnout ahead of the ballot.

The opposition has urged an international investigation into the vote after representatives of several international rights watchdogs observing the elections reported multiple irregularities, including vote-buying and ballot box stuffing.

Local election monitors also alleged that voters from across Serbia and neighbouring countries were registered and bussed in to cast ballots in Belgrade.

Mr Vucic and his party have rejected the reports as “fabricated”.

Saturday’s gathering symbolically was organised at a central area in Belgrade that in the early 1990s was the scene of demonstrations against strongman leader Slobodan Milosevic’s war mongering and undemocratic policies.

Critics say Mr Vucic, who was an ultranationalist ally of Milosevic in the 1990s, has reinstated that autocracy in Serbia since coming to power in 2012, by taking full control over the media and state institutions.

He says the elections were fair and his party won. He accuses the opposition of inciting violence at protests with the aim of overthrowing the government under instructions from abroad, which opposition leaders have denied.

Last weekend, protesters tried to enter Belgrade city hall, breaking windows, before riot police pushed them back using tear gas, pepper spray and batons. Police detained at least 38 people.

Serbia is formally seeking membership in the European Union, but the Balkan nation has maintained close ties with Moscow and has refused to join western sanctions imposed on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.

Russian officials have extended full support to Mr Vucic in the crackdown against the protesters and backed his claims that the vote was free and fair.

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