Serbia protests: Thousands march against President Vucic

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Protesters in BelgradeImage source, Reuters
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Several thousand gathered in the capital Belgrade, with smaller numbers in the cities of Novi Sad and Kragujevac

Thousands of demonstrators in Serbia have rallied for the fifth week against President Aleksandar Vucic.

Protesters say the president has seized control of the media and launched attacks on the opposition and journalists.

An attack on opposition politician Borko Stefanovic by unknown assailants in November triggered the marches.

Opposition umbrella group Alliance for Serbia (SZS) says they were supporters of Mr Vucic - a claim authorities deny.

Most rallied in the capital Belgrade, while smaller numbers demonstrated in the cities of Kragujevac and Novi Sad.

President Vucic, whose ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) holds 160 of the parliament's 250 seats, earlier said he was willing to speak to demonstrators but not to "opposition liars".

The former prime minister won the presidency in 2017 with about 55% of the vote, far ahead of any other candidate.

Image source, Reuters
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Demonstrators marched through capital Belgrade in freezing temperatures
Image source, Reuters
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Some protesters outside the Radio Television of Serbia headquarters held a sign saying "It has started"

Mr Vucic is pro-EU, but was accused by his rivals during the campaign of using the election to tighten his grip on power.

The post of president is largely ceremonial, but some say Mr Vucic could be trying to make the role more influential.

Several thousand marched in Belgrade on Saturday, joined by Serbian students and artists.

At the front of the rally demonstrators held a sign reading "1 in 5 Million".

The banner was reportedly in reference to Mr Vucic's earlier statement he would not meet opposition demands for free media "even if there were five million people in the street".

Image source, AFP/Getty
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It is the fifth straight week of protests against President Vucic in Serbia
Image source, AFP/Getty
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Students joined the several thousand protesters in the capital

Mr Vucic was previously a radical Serb nationalist who served under President Slobodan Milosevic in the late 1990s.

But in 2008, he left the country's Radical party to help found the moderate Progressive Party, signalling a clear break with his nationalist past.

"I do not hide that I have changed... I am proud of that," he told the AFP news agency in a 2012 interview.