Serbia (AP)

Serbia’s president promises early election amid large protests against his populist rule | AP News

Serbia’s president promises early election amid large protests against his populist rule | AP News

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s president on Wednesday promised an early parliamentary election, in an apparent attempt to defuse large protests against his populist rule in the wake of two mass shootings that shook the nation.

In an address to the nation, President Aleksandar Vucic said the vote will be held “by the end of this year.”

“Now it’s clear that we will have early parliamentary elections,” Vucic said, flanked by his close political ally, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic.

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“I’m ready to resign, my resignation is on the table,” Brnabic said.

Most of the opposition parties have rejected holding an election while Vucic maintains a firm grip on all leverages of power, including the mainstream media, which have been almost completely under his control.

Tens of thousands of people have rallied in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, even as Vucic rejected any responsibility for the crisis and ignored the protesters’ demands to step down.

He said the protesters were using the mass shootings to come to power without an election, saying that even if that means killing him and his family.

The opposition protesters have been demanding the resignations of senior government officials and the revocation of broadcasting licenses for two pro-government television networks which, they say, promote violence and glorify crime figures.

A new protest is planned for this weekend in what is becoming an increasingly serious challenge to Vucic, perhaps the biggest one he has faced since coming to power 11 years ago.

The opposition has accused Vucic of fueling intolerance and hate speech during his increasingly autocratic rule, while illegally seizing control of all state institutions. Vucic has denied this, claiming that opposition groups want him toppled by force.

The two shootings on May 3 and 4 stunned the nation, because the first one happened in an elementary school in central Belgrade, when a 13-year-old boy took his father’s gun and opened fire on his fellow students. Eight students and a school guard were killed and seven more people wounded. One more girl later died in hospital from head wounds.

A day later, a 20-year-old used an automatic weapon to randomly target people in two villages south of Belgrade, killing eight people and wounding 14.