Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has offered his resignation as leader of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) following weeks of protests against his rule but said he would remain head of state.
At a party congress in Kragujevac in central Serbia, Vucic nominated defence minister Milos Vucevic to replace him as party leader. Both his resignation and replacement have to be formally accepted in a closed session of the congress.
Opposition parties and rights watchdogs have long accused Vucic and the SNS of autocracy, stifling media freedoms, violence against political opponents, corruption and ties with organised crime. Vucic and his allies deny the accusations.
The SNS congress comes a day after tens of thousands of people from across Serbia and from neighbouring Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia rallied in the centre of Belgrade in a show of support for Vucic following big anti-government protests over two mass shootings that killed 18 people earlier this month.
Another anti-government protest is scheduled for later on Saturday.
Vucic told the congress he would remain head of state and would remain a party member. “I will never leave this party, I am proud to have led the best party all these years,” he told cheering delegates.
Vucic became president of the SNS in 2012, replacing Tomislav Nikolic who held the post since 2008 when the party was formed as an offshoot of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party.
He first served as the deputy prime minister and prime minister, and was then elected president in 2017 and in 2022. His second and last term expires in 2027. Along with its allies, the SNS holds a majority of 164 seats in the 250-member parliament.
A nationalist firebrand during the wars in the 1990s, Vucic later embraced pro-European policies, proclaiming Serbia’s membership in the European Union its strategic goal. He also maintains close ties with Russia and China.