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Protesters surround Serbian presidential palace for Vucic speech

AFP , Sunday 17 Mar 2019
Serbian protesters
A cordon of riot police officers passes through a crowd of protesters in front of the Serbian presidency building in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, March 17, 2019 (Photo: AP)

Thousands of demonstrators rallied around Serbia's presidential palace in Belgrade to protest a speech by President Aleksandar Vucic on Sunday, a day after opposition supporters stormed a state-run television building.

The break-in marked a new boldness in opposition protests that have been held weekly in the Balkan country since December against what critics describe as Vucic's slide towards autocratic rule.

On Saturday night dozens invaded the offices of RTS television -- which the protesters accuse of pandering to the ruling party -- demanding to address the population, in images aired live.

The leaders of opposition parties have become more visible at the protests, and among those storming the RTS building were former Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas and Bosko Obradovic, head of the right-wing Dveri party.

At Sunday's demonstration, riot police -- previously little seen at the usually peaceful rallies that began on December 8 -- held back protesters scrambling to get into an area near to where Vucic was to speak, according to an AFP journalist.

In his press conference at the presidential palace -- broadcast live on RTS -- Vucic said he was not intimidated by the protesters, whom he called "hooligans".

He also lashed out at the opposition, calling Obradovic a "fascist" and Djilas an "oligarch".

Vucic, an ultra-nationalist turned pro-European, has rejected claims that he has become autocratic.

Serbia, which aspires to join the EU in 2025, was criticised by the European Commission last year over press freedoms in the country, denouncing threats, intimidation and violence against journalists.

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