Tens of thousands of Serbians have joined an anti-government protest in Belgrade for the sixth time since May 3, blaming a culture of violence for the deaths of 18 people in two mass shootings and calling on the interior minister to resign.
Chanting “[Serbian President Aleksandar] Vucic out!” and holding a big banner reading “Students against violence,” the protesters gathered on Friday in front of the parliament and marched to the government building.
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Belgrade and some other Serbian cities have seen mass demonstrations since two deadly shooting rampages in early May that killed 18 people and wounded 20 others, including elementary school pupils. The protest on Friday was the sixth in the Serbian capital since the killings.
Protesters are demanding the resignation of Serbia’s interior minister, Bratislav Gasic, and secret service chief Aleksandar Vulin, who they blame for failing to bring criminal groups to justice.
“We cannot return the lives to the victims, but we can make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” actor Milan Maric said while addressing the crowd. “We want Serbia without violence, Serbia with hope.”
The demonstrators also called for the withdrawal of national broadcast licences for television channels Pink TV and Happy TV and a ban on some tabloids who they blame for promoting violence.
“I expect the protest to continue, because there is no other way,” said one of the protesters, who gave her name as Milica. “I think, at one point, the government will have to give in, this is a large number of people and eventually they will have to give in to this pressure.”
Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on Wednesday she was willing to resign and invited the opposition parties – who have backed the protests – for dialogue. But protest leaders have said that they will not speak with the government until all their demands are met.
Vucic has said his government is not at fault.
“Is the government to blame for crimes that happened? I cannot accept that,” he told Reuters on Friday.
Serbia has a deeply entrenched gun culture, and along with the rest of the Western Balkans is awash with military-grade weapons and ordnance in private hands after the wars of the 1990s that tore apart former Yugoslavia. However, mass shootings are rare.