An election for control of Serbia's capital is to be rerun following opposition fraud claims

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A key vote for control of Serbia's capital, Belgrade — a focal point of widespread fraud reports after last December elections — is to be rerun later this year, officials said Sunday.

The announcement follows months of soaring political tensions over claims that the ruling populists of President Aleksandar Vucic orchestrated a fraud in the vote for Belgrade's city assembly.

The right-wing Serbian Progressive Party was declared the winner of the Dec. 17 election. But the main opposition alliance, Serbia Against Violence, have insisted they were robbed of a victory in Belgrade and that the parliamentary vote that took place at the same time was also marred by widespread irregularities. The dispute has led to large street protests.

It was not immediately clear when the new vote would be held. Sunday marked the formal deadline to form the Belgrade city authorities following the vote in December. The outgoing assembly will remain in place until the new election.

Vucic and his party have denied any wrongdoing, dismissing fraud claims as fabrications aimed at destabilizing Serbia.

International election observers, however, said earlier this week that the December election was held in “unjust conditions,” in part because of the president’s involvement and systemic advantages for the ruling party.

The report by an office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also said the ballot was “marred by harsh rhetoric, bias in the media, pressure on public sector employees and misuse of public resources.” It listed a set of recommendations for Serbia to fulfil before its next vote.

Opposition politicians said the announcement of the new vote showed that Vucic's party was defeated in Belgrade after his decade-long tight grip on power.

“Today they admitted they lost (the election) despite the robbery of enormous proportions,” said Vladimir Obradovic, an opposition candidate for the Belgrade mayor. "The citizens of Belgrade have shown they don't want them (populists).

The opposition and some local election monitors have claimed that voters from abroad were added to voters’ lists in Belgrade and were bused in on election day to vote for the ruling party.

Serbia is a candidate for European Union membership, but Vucic has faced accusations of curbing democratic freedoms since taking a firm grip on power in the Balkan country over a decade ago.