Tens of thousands march after mass shootings in Belgrade – The Guardian


Demonstrators in the Serbian capital protested against populist President Aleksandar Vučić for the second time in a week

AP in Belgrade

Fri 12 May 2023 at 8:20pm BST

Tens of thousands of people marched through Belgrade blocking a key bridge as part of the second major protest since two mass shootings that rocked Serbia and killed 17 people, including many children.

Protesters gathered in front of the parliament building on Friday before walking past the government seat to a highway bridge over the Sava River, where evening commuters had to turn their vehicles to avoid getting stuck. At the head of the column hung a black banner with the inscription “Serbia against violence”.

As demonstrators passed government buildings, many chanted slogans against Serbia’s populist President Aleksandar Vučić, whom they blame for creating an atmosphere of hopelessness and division in the country that they say indirectly led to the mass shootings.

The pro-government media criticized the bridge blockade. The daily Novosti reported that “the harassment has started and hooligans have blocked the bridge”.

Funerals for victims of two mass shootings begin in Serbia

But opposition politician Srdjan Milivojevic told N1 TV: “This is a fight for survival.” He added: “If the president doesn’t understand his people, it’s time for his resignation.”

The police did not intervene.

Before the protest, Vučić, who holds almost all levers of power, said the protest amounted to “political violence” and “harassment” to citizens. However, he said police would not intervene “unless people’s lives were in danger”.

“What gives them the right to block other people’s normal lives?” said Vučić, who accused opposition leaders of “abusing the tragedy” after the shootings that deeply shook the nation and sparked calls for change.

“They are harassing citizens and forbidding them to travel,” Vučić stressed. “But we don’t like hitting protesters like France and Germany do.”

The rally came less than a week after an earlier protest in Belgrade that also drew thousands and other demonstrations in smaller towns across the country.

At the previous protest action in Belgrade, demonstrators demanded the resignation of government ministers and the withdrawal of the broadcasting licenses for two private, state-affiliated television stations that promote violence. Convicted war criminals and criminals are often guests on their programs.

The two shootings took place within two days and left 17 dead and 21 wounded. On May 3, a 13-year-old boy opened fire on his school in central Belgrade with his father’s gun. The next day, a 20-year-old man shot people indiscriminately in a rural area south of the capital.

Opposition parties have accused Vučić’s populist government of fueling intolerance and hate speech while controlling all institutions. Vučić has denied this. He has announced his own rally for May 26 in Belgrade, which he believes will be the “greatest of all time”.

“We don’t organize spontaneous rallies to play with people’s emotions,” Vučić said. “Our rally will be a rally of unity where we will announce important political decisions.”

Vučić also told reporters that citizens have turned in more than 9,000 guns since police announced a month-long amnesty for those who must turn in unregistered guns and ammunition or face jail time after the deadline.

According to estimates, Serbia is among the countries with the highest number of weapons per capita in Europe, many of which remain from the wars of the 1990s.

Other anti-gun measures following the shooting include a ban on new gun licenses, tighter controls on gun owners and shooting ranges, and tougher penalties for illegal gun ownership.


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