Serbia: Police in Belgrade attempt to contain opposition demonstrators protesting alleged electoral fraud, threatening to storm city hall

Serbian police fired tear gas to prevent hundreds of opposition supporters, gathered in front of the city hall in the capital Belgrade, from entering the municipal council building on the evening of Sunday, December 24

Serbia: Police in Belgrade attempt to contain opposition demonstrators protesting alleged electoral fraud, threatening to storm city hall

Serbian police fired tear gas to prevent hundreds of opposition supporters, gathered in front of the city hall in the capital Belgrade, from entering the municipal council building on the evening of Sunday, December 24. United under the banner Serbia Against Violence (SPN), the opposition, given 23.5% of the vote in the general elections held on December 17, denounces widespread irregularities during the election.

The country's populist authorities have denied having rigged the election which made it possible to appoint members of Parliament and local elected officials. Nationalist Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Sunday that claims of fraud were simply blatant “lies” spread by the political opposition.

Mr Vucic also suggested that the unrest was provoked from abroad. Addressing the nation at the same time as the protest outside Belgrade City Hall, he called the protesters "thugs" who would fail to destabilize the state and said: "It is not about of a revolution. They won’t make it.” “We are doing our best, through our calm and moderate response, not to hurt the demonstrators,” who came to the event to peacefully protest, he added.

Riot police barricaded themselves inside City Hall, as protesters smashed its windows in an attempt to gain entry. According to the Associated Press, protesters shouted "Open the door" and "Thieves" while throwing eggs at the building. Some chanted “Vucic is Putin,” comparing the openly pro-Russian Serbian president to the Russian president. No injuries were immediately reported.

Irregularities pointed out by international observers

Serbia held parliamentary and local elections on December 17, in which the president's right-wing nationalist party declared a landslide victory.

But the election drew widespread criticism after a team of international observers – including representatives from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – denounced a series of “irregularities”, including “ vote buying” and “ballot stuffing.”

Hundreds of people have since demonstrated daily in front of the Serbian electoral commission, while several opposition MPs have started a hunger strike to demand the annulment of the vote results and international condemnations have poured in.

Germany has called the alleged fraud “unacceptable” for a country hoping to join the European Union (EU). The United States called on Belgrade to address the “concerns” of election observers, while the EU said “Serbia’s electoral process requires tangible improvements and further reforms.”

An investigation requested by the prosecutor from the police

On Saturday, Serbia's prosecutor's office said it had asked police to investigate several alleged irregularities so prosecutors could determine whether there was enough evidence to bring formal charges.

Numerous cases of alleged irregularities were reported, including cases of “electoral corruption” and “vote buying,” the Belgrade prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

“[We] have attached a video recording of two women talking about the alleged giving of money by a stranger [to get them] to vote,” it is notably underlined. Other reported irregularities include falsified ballots found in Belgrade ballot boxes.

On Sunday, Serbia Against Violence, the party of opposition leader Marinika Tepic, who is among the MPs on hunger strike since Monday, said her health was "in danger" and that she should receive daily infusions. “Despite all this, she is not giving up and remains determined to fight to the end to overturn the elections that were brutally stolen,” the party said in a statement.