Serbian demonstrators resume anti-president protests

Thousands of people take part in a protest against the Serbian government in Belgrade, Serbia, on January 5, 2019 (AFP Photo/OLIVER BUNIC)

Belgrade (AFP) - Several thousand people marched Saturday in the Serbian capital, the fifth consecutive weekend rally against the rule of President Aleksandar Vucic whom they accuse of authoritarianism.

The protests represent the biggest challenge to Vucic's rule so far, and were first called by opposition parties after one of their leaders was beaten ahead of a political gathering in central Serbia in November.

The opposition Alliance for Serbia (SZS), an umbrella of parties from across the political spectrum, accused the attackers of being supporters of Vucic's ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), a claim the authorities denied.

"Serbia is slowly rising, entire towns are rising ... and our numbers will grow," actor and one of the movement's leader Branislav Trifunovic told the crowd in Belgrade on Saturday, quoted by N1 television.

Several hundred people also protested in the southern town of Kragujevac and some 50 in Novi Sad in the north, Beta news agency reported.

Since the first protest on December 8, the rallies were joined by students and public figures, notably artists.

The demonstrators gathered in front of the faculty of philosophy and marched through Belgrade behind a large banner reading: "1 in 5 million."

It was a reference to Vucic's earlier statement that he would not meet opposition demands for free media and fair elections "even if there were five million people in the street".

Vucic, a hardline nationalist-turned-European, is accused by the opposition and civil society of having established autocratic rule and total control over the media, using it to campaign against opponents.

Commenting earlier on the protests Vucic said he was "ready to listen to the citizens who are demonstrating but not to opposition liars."

Vucic was elected president in 2017 after holding the post of prime minister.

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