BELGRADE (Serbia) — Thousands of government supporters took to the streets of the Serbian capital, Belgrade, yesterday to rally behind President Aleksandar Vucic, following a string of big demonstrations against his administration in the wake of two mass shootings this month.
The “Serbia of Hope” rally is widely perceived as a government response to the opposition-led protests that have seen tens of thousands demonstrate in one of the largest mass demonstrations to rock the Balkan country in decades.
Vucic’s supporters arrived by bus and train from across Serbia throughout Friday, sparking accusations from human rights groups that people were being pressured into attending.
“I trust these people who lead the country and that is why I am here, to support this gathering,” Branko Marovic, 82, told AFP.
The president hailed Friday’s event as “a gathering where we will try to unite Serbia and show that it has a future”.
The protests against the government first took shape earlier this month following back-to-back shootings within 48 hours — including a massacre at an elementary school in Belgrade.
Days after the shootings, tens of thousands rallied demanding a crackdown on violent content on pro-government media and the resignation of the interior minister and intelligence chief.
But the demands were met with fierce rebuttals from the president and his allies, who mocked the protests and hurled insults at participants.
Belgrade is braced for a tense weekend, as the opposition plans to take to the streets again on Saturday.
Earlier this week, civil society groups called on Vucic to scrap his rally, saying it would only deepen divisions in the already polarised country. — AFP