Four hours before the official start of the massive rally in Belgrade organised by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its leader and the head of state Aleksandar Vucic, dozens of buses were bringing people from across the country to the capital.
As Vucic announced, apologising to Belgraders, “almost everything will be impassable,” traffic in the city’s centre and surrounding streets were blocked from last night and early morning.
The rally is organised within Vucic's Serbia's Future campaign which he launched two and a half months into the widespread civil and opposition anti-government protests.
He toured Serbia, explaining to people all the achievements during his rule and all the failures of the previous regime whose leaders he described as "thieves."
A vast crowd gathered outside the Palace of Serbia, in New Belgrade district, carrying national flags, while across the road from a small lorry decorated with balloons in different colours blared music and young girls were dancing to the tunes.
Across the city's Brankov Bridge masses were heading in both directions – toward the centre and to New Belgrade.
There was no precise information about the number of buses which were taking people to Belgrade, and some estimates put in between 1 – 3,000.
According to some media, several buses carrying Kosovo Serbs to Belgrade were stopped before they crossed the borderline and banned from continuing the trip because the drivers allegedly did not have proper documents for buses owned by Kosovo Albanians.
Other reports said that 155 buses brought Kosovo Serbs to the rally.
Vucic on Thursday said it would be the most massive rally ever seen in the capital and promised a carnival atmosphere.
On the other side, N1 and some other media had been receiving messages from people who claimed to have been forced to attend.
In the eastern town of Pozarevac buses were not taking children to schools due to “technical reasons.”
Some teachers and parents told media the real reason was that buses were transporting people to the Belgrade rally.
Public and opposition anti-regime protest was held in Belgrade last Saturday with people from across the country who came as they could since the bus companies were said to have been told not to take them to the capital.
The Interior Minister said 7-7,500 people gathered, while participants and opposition leaders put the figure at 3–35,000 protesters, the most massive rally since the protests #1 in 5 million started in Belgrade four months ago and gradually spread across Serbia.
Nebojsa Zelenovic, one of the leaders of the opposition Alliance for Serbia (SzS) group said the “the regime’s siege” of the capital would not prevent free citizens from being even more determined and courageous in demanding free media, dialogue (with the authorities) and free elections.
Another SzS leader Bosko Obradovic described the event as “tragic situation for all Serbia’s free citizens who could not say no to those who told them to bring their families and go to Belgrade and to break the law by leaving workplaces.”
“As of today our duty as citizens is to stop this madness of Aleksandar Vucic's regime,” Obradovic told reporters in the central town of Cacak.
Vuk Jeremic, also an opposition leader said he expected Vucic to “bury any possibility for the dialogue at today’s rally.”
“We’ll hear Vucic’s answer to the demands by the people who have been protesting for over four months, but I don’t believe he would accept them. If that happens, there won’t be room for a constructive dialogue with a man who describes his nation as fascists and thieves,” Jeremic said, adding the opposition and people would continue to pressure the authorities to accept fair election rules.
He calculated the cost of Vucic’s rally, saying it “will be the most expensive gathering in the modern history,” adding “Vucic was weekly spending hundreds of thousand Euros of taxpayers money to control 90 percent of media loyal to him.”
The pro-government privately-owned Pink TV with the national frequency started live coverage of the events hours before the rally was scheduled to begin at 6 pm outside the country’s parliament.