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Serbia opposition invade state-run TV to protest President Vucic’s 'autocratic rule'

Oliver Bunic / AFP | Riot police officers stand guard to prevent protesters demonstrating against Serbian President to burst inside state-run TV headquarters at the building's second entrance, on March 16, 2019, in Belgrade.

Opposition supporters stormed the national TV station during the 14th consecutive Saturday of demonstrations against what they say is the leader’s autocratic rule, as Serbia's president has pledged to defend the country's law and order a day after.

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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. Police said they were attacked and the interior minister said the protest leaders must be "processed" as soon as possible.

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," he said.

Riot police on Saturday night removed hundreds of people, including opposition leaders, who stormed the RTS television headquarters to denounce the broadcaster, whose reporting they consider highly biased, and demanding more airtime for opposing views.

Among the dozens who invaded RTS on Saturday were opposition figures including former Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas and Bosko Obradovic, leader of the right-wing Dveri party.

Weekly peaceful protests since December

This was the first major incident after 14 weekends of peaceful protests against populist leader Vucic. Every Saturday, demonstrators have been taking to the streets to demand his resignation, fair elections and a free media.

Protests were also held in several other Serbian towns, with the marchers accusing those in power of muzzling the media and civil rights groups, also calling for the RTS chiefs to step down.

The protests began early December after thugs beat up an opposition politician late November.

Vucic, an ultra-nationalist-turned-pro-European and Milosevic’s former ally, has rejected claims he has become autocratic, and in return has launched a "Future of Serbia" campaign, visiting towns throughout Serbia and championing his policies.

The European Commission last year raised concerns about media freedoms in Serbia, denouncing threats, intimidation and violence against journalists.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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