German official praises Serbian leader for peaceful protests

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) " Germany's foreign minister on Wednesday praised the role of Serbia's president-elect in maintaining stability in the war-weary Balkans, saying daily protests against Aleksandar Vucic's election victory are part of the democratic process.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said after talks with Vucic in Belgrade that it's important for the demonstrations that have been held throughout the country every day since the April 2 election to remain peaceful.

"Serbia is a factor of stability in the region," Gabriel said in comments translated into Serbian by an official interpreter. "Old demons have been waking up in some parts of the Balkans, and Serbia is the country that has contributed that this does not happen."

Meanwhile, Serbians took to the streets again in Belgrade and other cities, blowing whistles and carrying banners that urged an end to Vucic's alleged "dictatorship."

Vucic, Serbia's current prime minister, received 55 percent of the vote in the presidential election, enough to avoid a runoff. Opposition leaders have alleged irregularities, including muzzling the media during the campaign and voter intimidation.

Vucic has dismissed the allegations. He said Wednesday that the protests present "an expression of Serbia's democratic strength."

"They can demonstrate for a year or 10 years if they want," he said.

Vucic has pledged to pursue European Union membership for Serbia and won EU support for his willingness to improve relations with former province Kosovo.

But he has faced mounting accusations at home of imposing an authoritarian rule by curbing dissent and freedom of speech, while also boosting ties with Serbia's traditional ally Russia.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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