By Associated Press - Monday, May 11, 2020

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - Serbia’s special police deployed on Monday to keep apart supporters of the populist government and the opposition, who were holding separate rallies in Belgrade amid heightened political tensions ahead of next month’s parliamentary election.

Over a thousand pro-government demonstrators and few hundred opposition supporters attended the rallies outside parliament.

Many participants were wearing face masks as a precaution against the new coronavirus, but nevertheless crowded quite close together despite social distancing rules. No incidents were reported between participants in the rival rallies.

Some opposition groups in Serbia have announced a boycott of the forthcoming vote, saying it will not be free and fair because of President Aleksandar Vucic’s control over the mainstream media and lack of space for critical voices.

Vucic’s supporters dispersed after he urged them in a televised address to do so. Vucic dismissed opposition calls for postponement of the election, saying the vote was already being held later than expected because of the pandemic.

Tensions in Serbia have mounted after authorities imposed a state of emergency during the virus outbreak. Critics argue Vucic used the measures to tighten his grip on power, which he has denied.

Serbia is formally seeking European Union membership, though Vucic has strengthened relations with Russia and China. Serbia has partially eased the coronavirus restrictions following a drop in reported cases.

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