Serbian authorities on Sunday displayed many of the around 13,500 weapons they say have been handed over to people since this month’s mass shootings, including hand grenades, automatic weapons and anti-tank rocket launchers.
Authorities have declared a one-month amnesty period for citizens to turn in unregistered weapons or face jail terms as part of an anti-gun crackdown following two mass shootings that left 17 dead, many of them children.
Populist President Aleksandar Vucic accompanied senior police officials on Sunday to the weapons display near the town of Smederevo, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the capital Belgrade.
Vucic said about half of the weapons collected were illegal, while the other half were registered weapons that were nevertheless turned in by citizens. He added that the weapons will go to Serbian arms and ammunition factories for potential use by the armed forces.
“After June 8, the state will respond with repressive measures and the punishments will be very strict,” he said of the post-amnesty period. “Why does anyone need an automatic weapon? Or all these weapons?
Serbia is estimated to be among the top countries in Europe in arms per capita. Many remain from the wars of the 1990s and are kept illegally.
Other anti-gun measures will include stricter controls on gun owners and shooting ranges.
Authorities launched the anti-gun campaign after a 13-year-old boy took his father’s gun on May 3 and opened fire on fellow students at a primary school in central Belgrade. A day later, a 20-year-old man used an automatic weapon to shoot at random in a rural area south of Belgrade.
The two mass shootings left 17 dead and 21 injured, shocking the nation and sparking calls for change in a country that has endured decades of turmoil and crisis.
Tens of thousands of people have gathered in two protest marches in Belgrade since the shooting, demanding the resignation of government ministers and a ban on TV stations promoting violent content and featuring war criminals and crime figures.
Vucic on Sunday rejected opposition calls for the resignation of Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic, who was also present at Sunday’s arms show. But the president suggested that the government could step down and announce early elections at a rally he has planned for May 26 in Belgrade.
“We have no intention of replacing (interior minister) Gasic, who is doing a great job,” Vucic said. “What have the police done wrong?”
Opposition politicians have accused Vucic’s populist authorities of fomenting violence and hate speech against critics, spreading propaganda in mainstream media and imposing autocratic rule across all institutions, which they say it fuels divisions in society.
On Friday, protesters in Belgrade blocked a key bridge and highway in the capital to press their demands. Protests have also been held in other Serbian cities and towns, in an outpouring of grief and anger over the shootings and the populist authorities.
Vucic described the blockade of the bridge as harassment, while he and other officials and media under his control tried to minimize the number of protesters.