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Police in Serbia detain nearly 40 people as opposition plans more protests against election results

Associated Press

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbian police said Monday they have detained at least 38 people who took part in a protest against reported widespread irregularities during a recent general ballot that declared the governing populists as winners of the parliamentary and local councils’ elections.

Claiming election fraud, particularly in the capital, Belgrade, opposition group Serbia Against Violence has been staging protests since the Dec.17 elections while some politicians began a hunger strike. On Sunday evening, hundreds of protesters tried to enter Belgarde’s city council, breaking windows, before riot police pushed them back using tear gas, pepper spray and batons.

Senior police official Ivica Ivkovic told reporters those detained are facing charges of inciting violent change of constitutional order —in reference to attempting to overthrow the governmnet — and violent behavior. He added that eight officers were injured, several seriously.

The opposition said police beat up some of its supporters.

With more protests planned for later on Monday, police warned they would not allow roads or bridges to be blocked in the capital.

Police “are ready and capable of countering any acts of violence with determination,” Ivkovic said.

The country’sSerbian Progressive Party has denied rigging the vote and described the elections as fair despite criticism from international monitors and local election observers.

President Aleksandar Vucic described Sunday’s protests as an attempt to overthrow the government with help from abroad, without specifying what he meant. Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic thanked Russia late Sunday for tipping Serbia in advance of violent protests against election results.

Serbia is formally seeking membership in the European Union but the Balkan nation has maintained close ties with Moscow and has refused to join Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the aggression on Ukraine.

Vucic’s party claimed victory in both the parliamentary and Belgrade city ballots elections. Serbia Against Violence, the ruling party’s main contender, said it was robbed of a win, especially in Belgrade.

Representatives of several international rights watchdogs observing the elections reported multiple irregularities during the vote, including cases of bought votes and ballot-box stuffing. They also noted unjust conditions for opposition candidates due to media bias, abuse of public resources by the ruling party, and Vucic dominating the ruling party’s campaign and media time allocated for candidates despite not taking part in the elections himself.

Serbia Against Violence said Thursday in a letter sent to EU institutions, officials and member nations that it would not recognize the elections’ outcome. The alliance called on the EU to do the same and to initiate an investigation into the results.


Dusan Stojanovic contributed to this story.

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