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Serbia's Vucic Vows To Defend Law And Order After Opposition Storms State TV Building


Protesters Demand Release Of Detainees At Belgrade Police Station
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WATCH: Protesters Demand Release Of Detainees At Belgrade Police Station

BELGRADE -- Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has vowed to defend law and order across his country, a day after opposition supporters stormed and briefly occupied the headquarters of state TV in a protest against what they say is his autocratic rule and biased coverage of their demonstrations by state media.

Speaking at the presidential headquarters in downtown Belgrade on March 17 as thousands of demonstrators rallied around the building for several hours demanding his resignation, Vucic refused to bow to the pressure and said: "I am not afraid."

Amid heavy police presence, several dozen protesters later gathered outside a police station in the Serbian capital calling for the release of those detained during the rally and the occupation of state TV channel RTS's headquarters the previous day.

The protesters dispersed after opposition leaders threatened to call for more demonstrations across Serbia if the authorities do not free those detained before 3 p.m. local time on March 18.

During his press conference, Vucic said he was not intimidated by the antigovernment protesters who have staged rallies for weeks, and repeatedly described their leaders as "fascists, hooligans, and thieves."

Antigovernment Protesters Invade Serbian State TV Station
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"I'm their target as I seek Serbia's political consolidation and economic development," he said.

"There will be no more violence," Vucic said. "Serbia is a democratic country, a country of law and order and Serbia will know how to respond."

"Everyone taking part in this violence will be brought to justice," he said. "The state won't allow violence. If anyone thinks political goals can be achieved through violence, they are mistaken."

Serbian President Vows To Defend Order Amid Ongoing Opposition Protests
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As Vucic spoke, skirmishes with riot police were reported outside of the presidential building, with police firing tear gas against demonstrators who vowed to form a human chain around the building to prevent him from leaving.

The demonstrators chanted, "He is finished!" -- a slogan of the October 2000 popular uprising that led to the ouster of the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Police said several demonstrators were detained.

Vucic downplayed the number of protesters outside, insisting that there were only about 1,000 people gathered there.

"If they break in here, I will wait for them," Vucic said. "They think they have the right -- 1,000 of them -- to determine the fate of the country."

President Aleksandar Vucic spoke to the nation on March 17.
President Aleksandar Vucic spoke to the nation on March 17.

On March 16, protesters demonstrating against Vucic were forced out of the state-run TV building in Belgrade about two hours after they stormed the building.

Serbian police in full riot gear arrived inside the state TV channel RTS headquarters in central Belgrade on March 16 and moved toward the protesters, who included leaders from the Alliance for Serbia, a loose grouping of about 30 parties and movements.

After police appeared to attempt to negotiate with the opposition leaders, they began evicting demonstrators by force, either by dragging out those who were sitting or pushing out those standing.

Some of the opposition leaders inside the TV building had said they would not leave until they were allowed to speak on air.

The German dpa news agency reported that two opposition leaders, former Belgrade Mayor Dragan Djilas and right-wing lawmaker Bosko Obradovic, refused to leave and were carried out by police.

The unrest came in the latest in a series of weekly protests against Vucic and his government over the past 12 to 14 weeks.

"For the past months, we have been asking only for one thing -- to allow protest organizers to speak on state television," said Obradovic, leader of the Dveri political party.

Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin told pro-government Pink TV that the protesters are "fascists."

Demonstrators have been demanding Vucic's resignation, a more open media, and transparent elections.

The weekly rallies began after unknown people beat up an opposition politician in November.

Protesters have been accusing Vucic of stifling democratic liberties, cracking down on political opponents, and controlling the media. He denies the accusations.

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 as well.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

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