Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic promises early election amid protests against his populist rule

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s president promised a snap parliamentary election on Wednesday, in an apparent attempt to defuse large protests against his populist rule following two mass shootings that rocked the nation.

In an address to the nation, President Aleksandar Vucic said the vote will take place “by the end of this year”.

“Now it is clear that we will have early parliamentary elections,” said Vucic, flanked by his close political ally, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic.

“I am ready to resign, my resignation is on the table,” Brnabic said.

Most opposition parties have rejected holding elections while Vucic maintains a firm grip on all levers of power, including the mainstream media, which has been almost entirely under his control.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, even as Vucic denied responsibility for the crisis and ignored protesters’ demands to stand down.

He said protesters were using mass shootings to come to power without an election, saying even if that meant killing him and his family.

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Opposition protesters have demanded the resignation of senior government officials and the revocation of the broadcasting licenses of two pro-government television stations which they say encourage violence and glorify crime figures.

Another protest is scheduled for this weekend in what is becoming an increasingly serious challenge for Vucic, perhaps the biggest he has faced since taking power 11 years ago.

The opposition has accused Vucic of fueling intolerance and hate speech during his increasingly autocratic rule, while illegally seizing control of all state institutions. Vucic denied this, saying opposition groups wanted him to be overthrown by force.

The two shootings on May 3 and 4 stunned the nation, as the first occurred at an elementary school in central Belgrade, when a 13-year-old boy took his father’s gun and opened fire on his friends. Eight students and a school guard were killed and seven others injured. Another girl later died in hospital from head injuries.

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A day later, a 20-year-old used an automatic weapon to randomly target people in two villages south of Belgrade, killing eight people and injuring 14.

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