Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the Serbian capital, Belgrade, on Saturday, after opposition leader Tomislav Nikolic initiated calls for a snap election.
Addressing a crowd of over 50,000 protesters, Nikolic said he had begun a hunger strike that would last until the election is called.
"Since this morning, I did not drink or eat," he told the crowd. "I ask you to accept this as the last resort to fight for a better Serbia."
He added that it was his "personal sacrifice." Nikolic and other opposition leaders followed the speeches by taking seat on polystyrene foam, asserting that they would not move until and election is called.
Growing social unrest
The coalition surrounding Nikolic's Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has come out on top in recent opinion polls. Although they hold only 21 of the 250 seats in parliament, public support for the party seems to exceed the popularity of the current government.
During the demonstration, thousands of protesters chanted "Thieves, thieves!" and "Save Serbia, kill yourself Boris," referring to Serbian President Boris Tadic.
"We have had enough of this privileged regime which has ravaged Serbia," said deputy SNS leader Aleksandar Vucic. "They can no longer weaken the popular energy, and no one has ever defeated the people."
The opposition held Tadic's ruling coalition responsible for economic decline, widespread corruption and rising unemployment. They asserted that this has stalled the reforms required for Serbia to become a member of the EU. But the government responded saying they would not give in to pressure.
Anticipated EU membership
The election isn't officially due until May 2012, and the government insisted that the date shouldn't be pushed forward as an election campaign may hamper Serbia's European membership process.
Serbia is expecting to find out by the end of the year whether its EU application has been successful. Politicians and analysts suggested that if the application is approved, the ruling coalition may call early elections to capitalize on the achievement.
The Serbian government has faced growing social unrest in recent months. In February, a similar protest attracted approximately 70,000 demonstrators.
The Serbian economy grew by 1.8 percent in 2010, after a 3 percent recession in 2009. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently said, however, that since 2008 the financial crisis has swallowed over 400,000 jobs in Serbia.
Moreover, it has estimated that the projected 3 percent growth rate for 2011 is too small to offset the effects of rising unemployment and accumulating debts.
Doctors, teachers, policemen and other public-sector workers have also responded by calling strikes and demonstrating for pay rises and better working conditions.
Author: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill (dpa, AFP)
Editor: Sean Sinico