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Police in Serbia Detain at Least 38 People as Opposition Plans More Protests


Protesters clash with anti-riot police in Belgrade, Serbia, Dec. 24, 2023.
Protesters clash with anti-riot police in Belgrade, Serbia, Dec. 24, 2023.

Serbian police said Monday they have detained at least 38 people who took part in a protest against reported widespread irregularities during a recent general ballot that declared the governing populists as winners of the parliamentary and local councils' elections.

Opposition group Serbia Against Violence has been staging protests since the Dec. 17 elections, saying there has been election fraud, particularly in the capital, Belgrade. Some politicians began a hunger strike.

On Sunday evening, hundreds of protesters tried to enter Belgrade's city council, breaking windows, before riot police pushed them back using tear gas, pepper spray and batons.

Senior police official Ivica Ivkovic told reporters that those detained were facing charges of inciting violent change of constitutional order — in reference to attempting to overthrow the government — and violent behavior. He added that eight officers were injured, several of them seriously.

The opposition said that police beat up some of its supporters.

With more protests planned for later on Monday, police warned they wouldn't allow roads or bridges to be blocked in the capital.

Police "are ready and capable of countering any acts of violence with determination," Ivkovic said.

The country's Serbian Progressive Party has denied rigging the vote and described the elections as fair despite criticism from international monitors and local election observers.

President Aleksandar Vučić described Sunday's protests as an attempt to overthrow the government with help from abroad, without specifying what he meant. Serbia's Prime Minister Ana Brnabić thanked Russia late Sunday for tipping off Serbia in advance of violent protests against the election results.

Vučić has "irrefutable evidence" that the West is encouraging the opposition protests, Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko told Russian media after meeting with Vučić on Monday.

Serbia is formally seeking membership in the European Union, but the Balkan nation has maintained close ties with Moscow and has refused to join Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Vučić's party claimed victory in both the parliamentary and Belgrade city ballots elections. Serbia Against Violence, the governing party's main contender, said that it was robbed of a win, especially in Belgrade.

Representatives of several international rights watchdogs observing the elections reported multiple irregularities during the vote, including cases of bought votes and ballot-box stuffing. They also noted unjust conditions for opposition candidates because of media bias, abuse of public resources by the ruling party, and Vučić dominating the ruling party's campaign and media time allocated for candidates despite not taking part in the elections himself.

Serbia Against Violence said Thursday in a letter sent to EU institutions, officials and member nations that it wouldn't recognize the elections' outcome. The alliance called on the EU to do the same and to initiate an investigation into the results.