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Serbia cracks down on protests amid ‘voter fraud’ outcry – POLITICO

Dozens of people have been arrested during mass protests in Serbia amid allegations that elections earlier this month were rigged in favor of the ruling party.

Thousands of people gathered Monday evening outside a police station in the capital, Belgrade, to demand the release of at least 38 protesters who were reportedly arrested. The day before, authorities fired tear gas at crowds trying to storm city hall, while the opposition called on the West to investigate the vote.

Activists blocked traffic in the eighth consecutive day of protests since the December 17 legislative and local elections, which saw the governing coalition win a majority in the National Assembly.

President Aleksandar Vučić’s populist Serbian Progressive Party, in power since 2012, declared victory despite concerns from an international observer mission that the vote “was marred by harsh rhetoric, media bias, pressures on public sector employees and misuse of public resources.

Serbia’s independent election observer CRTA concluded that the results of the hotly contested elections in the capital “do not reflect the true will of the residents who voted.”

In a statement, the U.S. Ambassador to Belgrade, Christopher R. Hill, said that “all Serbian citizens have the right to be heard and the responsibility to express their political views peacefully and without resort to violence.” .

However, Russia’s ambassador to Serbia, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, claimed the opposition was seeking to overthrow the government “based on the experience of Maidan”, which saw the Moscow-backed Ukrainian government overthrown in 2014 during protests against corruption and government brutality. He has presented no evidence to support his claims of outside interference, and Washington has repeatedly called for calm.

Vučić has sought to strengthen economic ties with the EU, but at the same time has maintained closer political relations with the Kremlin, even since the start of the large-scale invasion of Ukraine. Tensions have also flared in recent months with neighboring Kosovo, amid warnings of renewed ethnic violence in the partially recognized state that Serbia considers its own territory.

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