Serbian Politicians Launch Dueling Hunger Strikes After Scuffle

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(Bloomberg) -- Serbian politicians launched dueling hunger strikes after a protest over next month’s parliamentary elections turned violent.

The Balkan state’s biggest opposition parties have vowed to boycott the June 21 vote, accusing President Aleksandar Vucic of muzzling media and wielding state institutions to prevent free elections. Tens of thousands of Serbs have held months of demonstrations, including nightly noise protests from balconies in one of Europe’s strictest virus lockdown regimes.

Bosko Obradovic, the leader of the right-wing opposition Dveri party, began his hunger strike Sunday after police arrested 15 of his supporters when they scuffled with ruling-party lawmakers outside of parliament Friday. He demanded that Vucic begin a dialog on the freedom of speech and fair campaign conditions.

“I’m asking for something quite reasonable and constructive - dialog between the authorities and opposition,” Obradovic told reporters.

Election Boycott

Two members of the president’s Serbian Progressive Party, which opinion polls show may win a majority in the election, responded to Obradovic’s protest with their own hunger strikes, saying they would wouldn’t eat until the 15 detained people were prosecuted.

Opposition parties have effectively stopped campaigning under Serbia’s coronavirus lockdown. They complain that Vucic has blocked their access to state-run media.

Meanwhile, Vucic and the government have dominated news with coverage of their response to the pandemic. The president now has more public support than any other Serbian leader in more than two decades, with 61% approving of his performance, according to a poll last month.

“For our children’s sake, decent and modern Serbia will defeat all the haters,” Vucic said on Instagram.

The country of 7 million has suffered from the virus less than many other European countries, with 215 dead as of Monday.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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