Demonstrators face-off with riot police at a protest against Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and his government in front of the presidential building in Belgrade. © Reuters / Marko Djurica

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that falling ratings are making the opposition employ drastic measures, as protesters led by a nationalist figure and a tycoon surrounded his palace and police headquarters.

The demonstrators gathered outside the presidential palace in central Belgrade before noon on Sunday, when Vucic was due to hold a press conference. They remained there for several hours before marching to the police headquarters to demand the release of detained activists.

As the head of state was talking to the press, the opposition activists used a truck to break through police cordons and blocked the Novi Dvor palace. “A group of hooligans attacked the officers” in an attempt to storm the building, the police said. Several arrests were reportedly made.

Outside the Serbian Presidency in Belgrade, #1od5miliona protesters broke down security fences as they approached the building, which they are now trying enter but are being blocked by police.

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— Balkan Insight (@BalkanInsight) March 17, 2019

The demonstrators joined hands and started singing the Serbian national anthem. The police refrained from using force against them, but kept them out of the presidential residence.

Anti-govt demonstrators make a human chain around the Serbian Presidency.

They're blocking all entrances, believing President Vucic is still

— Balkan Insight (@BalkanInsight) March 17, 2019

“We have no plans of leaving. All the exits are blocked. The rally is about to begin. We just have a single demand – Vucic’s resignation,” Bosko Obradovic, one of the leaders of the protest and the head of the nationalist Dveri Srpske party, said.

Right-wing Dveri leader Bosko Obradovic is at the front of the crowd trying to enter the Serbian Presidency in Belgrade, where President Vucic is currently giving a televised press conference.

A heavy police presence are blocking their

— Balkan Insight (@BalkanInsight) March 17, 2019

Another protest today, this time in front of the Presidency.

— Nick Ashdown (@Nick_Ashdown) March 17, 2019

Another prominent opposition figure, Vuk Jeremic, who used to be Serbian Foreign Minister (2007-2012) and President of the UN General Assembly (2012-13), said that he expected the president to come out to the demonstrators and talk to them.

. @jeremic_vuk ispred Predsedništva

— Narodna stranka Beograd (@NarodnaSBeograd) March 17, 2019

Syndicate of Serbian police sent a msg to the protesters: "we will always stand behind the people"
The crowd is still gathered around presidency building

— Marion Dautry (@MarionDautry) March 17, 2019

The people were brought to the street by the Alliance for Serbia, which unites more than 30 opposition parties and groups. Large swathes of them are headed by the opposition Democrats, who accuse Vucic of corruption, nepotism, mismanagement and cronyism, but faced similar criticism over their decade long rule before Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) took power.

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The nationalists also play an important role in the protest as they want Vucic out over fears he might recognize the independence of Kosovo. However, bringing the Democrats back to power isn’t their intention.

The president blasted the protest leaders, saying that “fascist Obradovic and oligarchs [Dragan] Dilas, who snatched $500 million, and Jeremic want to return to power to continue stealing. I am their target because I’m working for political consolidation and economic development of Serbia.”

The oligarchs allegedly sponsoring the unrest, whose crimes are now being investigated by the Serbian authorities, decided to boost tensions because they realized that public support for their cause is dwindling, Vucic said.

The opposition has been rallying in Serbia since December. On Saturday, a group of protesters forced their way into the headquarters of the country’s public broadcaster, RTS, accusing the media of turning a blind eye to the rallies and demanding air time.

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Vucic remained calm during his press conference, which went on despite booing and chanting from the crowd outside. “The state won’t allow violence. Those who believe they’ll be able to achieve political gains through violence, are mistaken,” he said, adding that the troublemakers will be held responsible for their actions.

Serbian opposition leader Dragan Djilas is among the crowd of #1od5miliona protesters, who are being blocked by police from entering the Presidency building in Belgrade.

— Balkan Insight (@BalkanInsight) March 17, 2019

The Serbian leader later posted a photo of himself playing chess in the besieged presidential palace to demonstrate his calm.

У Председништву кратак одмор пред послеподневне активности. Србија храбрости и поштења увек побеђује насилнике.

— Александар Вучић (@predsednikrs) March 17, 2019

No more than 2,000 have been taking part in Sunday’s protests in Belgrade, according to RIA-Novosti estimations. The demonstrators left the presidential palace a few hours later and marched to police headquarters to demand the release of those arrested during Saturday’s raid on the TV station.

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