Belgrade mayor defends six months of Christmas cheer


Belgrade (AFP)

Workers began removing a giant Christmas tree Monday from Belgrade's main shopping street, where it has been part of lavish holiday decorations in the Serbian capital for no fewer than six months.

Mayor Sinisa Mali defended the prolonged festive period -- which has grown longer each year since he won the keys to the city in 2014 -- by saying the Serbian capital is "a European metropolis and we must be competitive".

"People decide on where they want to celebrate the New Year in June, July, and not on December 25," Mali said on the private TV channel Prva.

But public anger was sparked when it emerged that the tree alone cost taxpayers 83,000 euros ($100,000), while the opposition alleged that the tree pointed to a pattern of corruption.

"There are a lot of scandalous things in the city budget, and the Christmas tree is only the tip of the iceberg," said Nikola Jovanovic of the right-wing opposition People's Party.

Mali, whose party won municipal elections in Belgrade earlier this month, is a political ally of the country's powerful centre-right President Aleksandar Vucic.