After two horrific shootings in Serbia, tens of thousands of people have protested in the national capital Belgrade for a third time over the manner the government dealt with the issue of gun violence. Demonstrators have demanded the removal of the countryâ€™s interior minister and the chief of intelligence, but authorities have dismissed their calls for action, claiming that the protestors are being controlled by foreign secret agencies.
This is the third major protest after two deadly shootings that killed 18 people. A 13-year-old boy used his fatherâ€™s gun to open fire at hisÂ school in central Belgrade, killing nine students and a security officer in the country’s first school mass shooting on May 3, and a day later, a 21-year-old man killed eight people in a rural area south of the capital Belgrade.
Critics say the public fury strikes not only at weapons but also at the nation’s “culture of violence,” which ranges from iron-fisted political speech to the adulation of criminals.
Serbia is thought to be among the top countries in Europe in terms of the number of firearms per capita, with many left over from the 1990s hostilities. Other anti-gun policies enacted in the aftermath of the massacres include a prohibition on new gun licenses, stronger regulations on gun owners and shooting ranges, and harsher penalties for illicit weapon ownership.
Serbians have surrendered more than 15,000 weapons, more than 2,500 explosive devices, and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition, as part of a month-long amnesty announced by the government. Authorities displayed weapons collected that included hand grenades, automatic firearms, and anti-tank rocket launchers.
Serbian President Aleksandr Vui has declared a series of actions aimed at achieving “almost total disarmament” of the country. The Serbian authorities declared a one-month amnesty period for citizens to hand over unregistered weapons or face prison sentences as part of a crackdown
However, while the declaration of an ambitious gun amnesty earned plaudits from abroad, Vui’s steps have been perceived as insufficient comfort at home. Since the shootings, candlelight vigils for those slain have grown into full-fledged rallies against the government.
Opposition parties accuse the country’s government, led by President Aleksandar Vucic and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), of failing to take action against television channels broadcasting violent content. They also say the government is not acting against criminal elements in Serbian society and have called for the resignation of Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic and the head of intelligence.
Members of the opposition stormed out of a special session of parliament and accused the ruling party of trying to “silence the rally” rather than deal with the issues being raised by the demonstrators.
A counter rally was held in Pancevo, a town just east of Belgrade, where Vucic accused the opposition of using the mass shootings for self-promotion.