Serbia police fire tear gas as opposition backers demand election annulled

President Aleksandar Vucic condemns ‘attempted violent takeover’ amid protests over alleged election fraud.

Serbia's elections earlier this month have been marred by allegations of vote buying and ballot stuffing [Darko Vojinovic/AP]

Riot police in Serbia have fired tear gas and pepper spray at opposition supporters demanding the annulment of elections marred by claims of widespread fraud.

Hundreds of protesters attempted to storm Belgrade City Hall on Sunday evening during demonstrations against the results of parliamentary and local elections on December 17, which international observers say were marred by vote buying, ballot stuffing and the improper influence of President Aleksandar Vucic.

Opposition supporters, some chanting, “Vucic thief” and “Vucic is Putin”, used flagpoles and rocks to break windows as they tried to break into the capital’s administrative building but were repelled by riot police.

Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) were returned to power with a parliamentary majority after winning nearly 47 percent of the votes, according to preliminary results announced by electoral authorities.

The centre-left opposition alliance Serbia Against Violence received 23.56 percent of the vote, followed by the Socialist Party of Serbia with 6.56 percent, according to electoral authorities.

Serbia Against Violence has claimed it was the rightful winner, especially in Belgrade, where there were reports of non-residents being recruited to vote.

In a letter earlier this week, Serbia Against Violence told European Union institutions, officials and member nations that it would not recognise the outcome and called on the bloc to do the same as well as to initiate an investigation.

“Police are everywhere, also on the roofs. It is obvious that they do not want to recognise [the] election results,” said Serbia Against Violence leader Nebojsa Zelenovic. “We will continue with our fight.”

‘Blatant lies’

Vucic has rejected opposition calls to rerun the vote, blasting claims of irregularities as blatant “lies”.

In an address aired by pro-government Pink TV on Sunday, Vucic said the protests were “not a revolution” and those seeking to destabilise the state would not succeed.

“This was an attempted violent takeover of the state institutions of the Republic of Serbia,” Vucic said, while claiming there was evidence that “everything was prepared in advance” with assistance from abroad.

The Serbian leader said more than 35 people were arrested and more would follow.

“Nobody has the right to destroy our house, to destroy the property of our country and our citizens, not to mention causing serious injuries to our police officers,” Vucic said.

Vucic and his party were rattled by antigovernment protests in May, which began as demonstrations against back-to-back mass shootings that killed 18 people, including nine children, before morphing into a broader antigovernment movement taking aim at issues such as rising inflation and perceived government corruption.

On Monday, Russia accused Western countries of stirring up tensions in Serbia.

“The attempts of the collective West to destabilise the situation in the country are obvious,” Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told state-run news agency RIA Novosti.

Serbia, entirely dependent on Russia for gas, did not join international sanctions against Moscow after its Ukraine offensive. However, Serbia’s condemnation of the Russian offensive in the UN has sparked controversy.

The Kremlin had welcomed the election results, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying Moscow hoped the result would lead to the “further strengthening of friendship” between the countries.

Source: News Agencies