Serbian Opposition Rallies in Belgrade, Demands Early Elections

More than 50,000 opposition supporters rallied in front of the Serbian parliament, demanding early elections in a bid to oust the ruling coalition.

The rally, organized by the biggest opposition group, the Serbian Progressive Party, drew about 55,000 people, according to a police estimate, as opposition leaders accused the government of failings including corruption, incompetence and economic mismanagement, and gave it two months to call an early vote or face daily street protests.

“We want to create a modern, decent Serbia and no one can stop us,” said Tomislav Nikolic, head of the Serbian Progressive Party, in a speech accusing President Boris Tadic’s Democratic Party and its allies of “ruining the country.”

Parliamentary elections are due in mid-2012 in the Balkan nation, where the unemployment rate is more than 19 percent and the average net wage is $518 a month. The economy grew an estimated 1.5 percent last year after contracting 3 percent in 2009.

Serbia, which aims to secure this year the status of a candidate country for European Union membership, expects to attract $3 billion of foreign direct investment in 2011 after inflows fell to a six-year low of 860 million euros ($1.17 billion) last year.

“If they don’t understand that Serbia is against them, we will not clear from the streets of Belgrade until they are out,” said Aleksandar Vucic, deputy leader of the Progressive party, while police in anti-riot gear deployed across the city center. No incidents were reported.

Teachers Strike

“The Progressives are the most serious opposition party here, but at this moment they may not have enough popular support to mount a successful challenge” to the governing coalition, said Marko Blagojevic, director of operations at the Belgrade-based Center for Free Elections and Democracy.

On the eve of the rally, the government reached an agreement with two out of four unions that led a week-long strike by teachers in almost 1,400 out of 1,804 state-funded schools. Under the deal, the teachers received a wage increase that will cost 3.6 billion dinars ($47.2 million).

Education Minister Zarko Obradovic said the increase won’t fuel inflation, which reached more than 10 percent in December. The International Monetary Fund’s resident representative, Bogdan Lissovolik, said the government should resist demands that may lead to similar expectations from other public sector workers, Vecernje Novosti newspaper reported.

Serbia’s public-sector workers and pensioners have had their earnings frozen for two-and-a-half years as part of the country’s 3-billion euro bailout loan with the IMF, which runs through April.

“We’d be happy to hear any concrete suggestion from them on how to deal with the global economic crisis,” Democratic Party spokeswoman Jelena Trivan said after the rally, referring to the opposition.

To contact the reporter on this story: Misha Savic in Belgrade at msavic2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

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