Serbia president vows to defend law and order amid protests

 
 
Updated 3/17/2019 7:49 AM
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  • Protesters sit in front of a riot police cordon at an entrance to the state-run TV headquarters in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, March 16, 2019. Demonstrators protesting the autocratic rule of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic burst into the state-run TV headquarters in Belgrade on Saturday to denounce a broadcaster whose reporting they consider highly biased.

    Protesters sit in front of a riot police cordon at an entrance to the state-run TV headquarters in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, March 16, 2019. Demonstrators protesting the autocratic rule of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic burst into the state-run TV headquarters in Belgrade on Saturday to denounce a broadcaster whose reporting they consider highly biased. Associated Press

  • Boris Tadic, center, former Serbian president, stands with other demonstrators at the state-run TV headquarters in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, March 16, 2019. Demonstrators protesting the autocratic rule of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic burst into state-run TV headquarters in Belgrade on Saturday to denounce a broadcaster whose reporting they consider highly biased.

    Boris Tadic, center, former Serbian president, stands with other demonstrators at the state-run TV headquarters in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, March 16, 2019. Demonstrators protesting the autocratic rule of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic burst into state-run TV headquarters in Belgrade on Saturday to denounce a broadcaster whose reporting they consider highly biased. Associated Press

BELGRADE, Serbia -- Serbia's president pledged on Sunday to defend the country's law and order a day after opposition supporters stormed the national TV station protesting what they said is his autocratic rule.

As Aleksandar Vucic held a news conference in the presidency building in downtown Belgrade, thousands of opposition supporters gathered in front demanding his resignation.

Skirmishes with riot police were reported, including officers firing tear gas against the protesters who have pledged to form a human chain around the presidency to prevent Vucic from leaving the building.

The crowd chanted "he is finished!" which was the slogan of the October 2000 uprising that led to the ouster of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

During his televised address, Vucic repeatedly branded opposition leaders as "fascists, hooligans and thieves."

"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."

"If they break in here, I will wait for them," said Vucic, who tried to downplay the protesters' numbers, insisting only about 1,000 people had gathered.

"They think they have the right, 1,000 of them, to determine the fate of the country," Vucic said.

Riot police on Saturday night removed hundreds of people, including opposition leaders, who stormed the TV headquarters to denounce the broadcaster, whose reporting they consider highly biased.

This was the first major incident after months of peaceful protests against populist leader Vucic. The demonstrators are demanding his resignation, fair elections and a free media.

The protests began after thugs beat up an opposition politician in November. A former extreme nationalist, Vucic has said he now says he wants to lead Serbia into the European Union.

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Jovana Gec contributed to this report.

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