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Thousands protest against Serbian President Vucic

media People, many blowing whistles, hold a banner reading "One on five million" as they protest against violence and what they say is a crackdown by the government of President Aleksandar Vucic on opposition parties and the media in Belgrade AFP

Thousands of demonstrators defied heavy snow Saturday in Belgrade to protest what they say is a crackdown by the government of President Aleksandar Vucic on opposition parties and the media.

The rally, the second weekend protest in a row, was the first significant opposition demonstration since spring 2017 when thousands of young Belgraders protested for weeks against Vucic's presidential victory.

It was called by opposition parties after one of their leaders was beaten ahead of a political gathering in central Serbia last month.

The opposition Alliance for Serbia (SZS), an umbrella of parties from the entire political spectrum, accused the attackers of being supporters of Vucic's ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), a claim the authorities denied.

Several opposition leaders led the crowd, including former foreign minister Vuk Jeremic and Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas.

Many protesters were blowing whistles and horns, the main symbol of 1990s mass opposition protests against late strongman Slobodan Milosevic, whose autocratic rule ended in popular uprising in October 2000.

Protesters carried placards reading "For how long will Serbia endure evil?" and "They lie, steal... I'm so angry," chanting "Vucic - thief!".

Vucic, a hardline nationalist-turned-European, is accused by the opposition and civic society of having established autocratic rule and full control over media, using them to campaign against opponents.

One of the protesters, 51-year old Zvonko Radosevic, said he joined the protest because "we don't want to live in Vucic's autocratic country."

"I don't want Vucic to represent me."

He said he was "glad" to see a large crowd.

"I thought that the people were losing the will, but this shows there is something burning still."

But he added that he didn't expect much change.

"I think it will be hard to bring him down... nothing will change, we will just make him worry a little."

Following last weekend's protest Vucic said he would not meet opposition demands for free media and fair elections "even if there were five million people in the street", prompting opponents to wear badges "1 in 5 million".

In its latest report on Serbia, the European Parliament "strongly" encouraged Serbian authorities" to "improve the situation regarding freedom of expression and freedom of the media".

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