The Presidents of Serbia and Russia, Aleksandar Vucic and Vladimir Putin visited the St Sava Temple in Belgrade, meeting the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej, lighting candles and symbolically putting up a part of a mosaic made by Russian artisans.
A crowd of people gathered in front of the temple after being brought by bus to the Serbian capital from places across the country. The gathering was organized by the Centre for the Development of Belgrade, a so far unknown NGO, whose spokesman said it had no official support from the authorities or ruling party for the gathering.
Putin said earlier that the gathering in support of Russia-Serbia friendship was a surprise gesture which he warmly welcomed. “Relations between Russia and Serbia do not date from today or yesterday, they were created over centuries and have strong and deep roots,” he said adding that “when we are together we expect victory”.
During his visit to Belgrade, Putin also met with Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity in Bosnia, President Zeljka Cvijanovic and the Serb member of Bosnia's tripartite Presidency Milorad Dodik
Video beams were installed in front of the St Sava Temple for the thousands of people gathered there. The crowd first formed a column, accompanied by drummers and a sound truck blasting out Russian music, at the nearby Slavija square around the fountain which has been lit with the colours of the Serbian and Russian flags.
The crowd shouted Aca (Vucic) Serb and Djilas Thief (alluding to the former Belgrade Mayor turned opposition leader) and carried banners reading In Support of A Free and Decent Serbia and Always With The People. The front ranks of the column carried a banner reading 1 in 300 Million, an allusion to a saying about the number of Serbs and Russians together.
Anti-government protesters who have been staging weekly marches in Belgrade customarily carry a banner reading 1 in 5 Million, an allusion to President Vucic’s statement that he would not give in to their demands if five million turned out for protests.
An N1 reporter saw street vendors selling badges with images of Putin and Serbian flags.