BELGRADE (Reuters) - Thousands of Serbians protested in Belgrade on Saturday against President Aleksandar Vucic and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), making demands including media freedom, an end to attacks on journalists and opposition figures, and no secret treaty with Kosovo.
Protesters brought together by the Alliance for Serbia, a loose grouping of 30 opposition parties and organizations, chanted “Vucic, thief!” in the sixth such protest in as many weeks.
The opposition rally comes ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit scheduled for next Thursday.
While Vucic says membership of the European Union remains Serbia’s ultimate goal, he maintains close ties with Russia, long a Slavic and Orthodox Christian ally of the country.
Putin’s visit is seen as a popularity booster for Vucic and his ruling coalition, and his supporters have scheduled a major rally for Thursday to welcome the Russian president.
Protesters in Belgrade have also accused Vucic of preparing a negotiated settlement with Kosovo, a key precondition for Serbia to join EU. Belgrade enjoys Russia’s backing in its opposition to Kosovo independence declared in 2008, almost a decade after a brutal 1998-1999 war there.
“Vucic has a compromise with everyone, with (Kosovo President Hashim) Thaci, with (Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush) Haradinaj, ... with everyone but honest people... That is a compromise for treason,” Rada Trajkovic, a Kosovo Serb politician told cheering crowd.
Protesters also demanded that the government find those responsible for the killing of Oliver Ivanovic, a prominent Kosovo Serb politician, a year ago. They also announced a rally in Belgrade for next Wednesday to commemorate his death.
In December, Vucic said he would not bow to opposition demands “even if there were 5 million people in the street”, but said he would be willing to hold a snap election. Opposition parties said they would boycott such an election.
Vucic has the backing of around 53 percent of the electorate. His coalition also has a majority of 160 deputies in the 250 seat parliament. If the opposition parties ran as an alliance, they could count on only around 15 percent of the vote.
Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Hugh Lawson