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Thousands of Serbians hold fresh rally in protest at government's policies, mass shootings

People attend a "Serbia against violence" protest in reaction to two mass shootings that have shaken the country, in Belgrade, Serbia, May 27, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Tens of thousands of Serbians have taken to the streets in the capital Belgrade for the fourth consecutive week in protest at the government's policies and two mass shootings that recently shook the country.

During the Saturday protest, demonstrators blamed Serbian government's policies for a tragic spike of violence and other social maladies across the country.

The rallies were first held after two back-to-back shootings in early May. The first incident saw a 13-year-old killing nine elementary school children and a security guard in the capital, while the second shooting involved a 21-year-old man gunning down eight people outside the city.

The protests have been organized by the country's opposition parties, which believe the government has stopped short of fulfilling its duty to prevent spread of violence through state media.

The protesters have mainly taken aim at President Aleksandar Vučić and the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), whom they accuse of autocracy, stifling media freedoms, violence against political opponents, corruption, and ties with organized crime.

On Saturday Vučić stepped down as leader of the SNS and appointed Defense Minister Miloš Vučević to be his successor. However, he dismissed the opposition's call to step down, saying he will remain the head of the state.

Vučić and his allies deny the opposition's accusations and have been organizing counter-rallies in support of the government.

Those attending the Saturday protest circled the building housing state-run RTS broadcaster. They demanded resignation of the RTS's top directors and editors, blaming them for encouraging violent behavior throughout the society.

"I am here because I am fed up with the lies and corruption. Nothing will change here until people realize it is possible and that we do have a choice," 40-year-old Dusan Valent told AFP.

Apparently trying to appease the protesters, Vučić addressed a counter-protest on Friday, saying, "Those who rallied in the past couple of weeks are, for the most part, good, decent, and normal people who want what's good for Serbia."

He has, however, emphatically turned down the protesters' demand for formation of a transitional government ahead of new elections.

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