BELGRADE-- Thousands of Serbian protesters have jammed a central Belgrade square in what organizers hoped would be the biggest outpouring of opposition to President Aleksandar Vucic in months.
Riot police faced off with the demonstrators who gathered on April 13 outside parliament as part of the protest organized by a loose coalition of 30 opposition groups, political parties, and activists.
Crowds chanted "Vucic, go away!" as speakers took to a stage to criticize the Serbian leadership.
"Mr. President, in order for Serbia to return to its constitution, you have to do what the citizens are asking for. Resign!" said Zoran Ivosevic, a former Supreme Court judge.
The Interior Ministry estimated that around 7,300 people had participated in the Belgrade rally. There was no immediate word on protests in other cities.
Members of Vucic's conservative party, meanwhile, barricaded themselves inside the parliament building, saying they were trying to thwart a forceful takeover by "fascists and thugs."
Since December, Serbs have been taking to the streets of Belgrade and elsewhere weekly to protest what they say is Vucic's autocratic rule, growing press restrictions, and other problems in the country.
The demonstrations began in December after leftist opposition leader Borko Stefanovic was brutally beaten up by masked attackers.
Vucic later mocked the demonstrations, saying he wouldn’t fulfill the demands "even if five million of you come out."
Since then, government opponents have rallied every Saturday under the slogan "1 out of 5 million."
Protesters have also vented anger at state broadcasters RTS and RTV. Last month, a group of demonstrators broke into the RTS headquarters, trying to get their demands read out on air. But police eventually cleared the building after scuffles.
Long a nationalist, Vucic has attempted to remake himself as a pro-European Union reformer while seeking to maintain good relations with traditional ally Russia.
Vucic reportedly plans to rally his supporters in Belgrade on April 19 in an effort to counter the rising opposition protests.