BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia’s parliament convened for its first session on Tuesday with opposition lawmakers continuing to protest the results of a snap election in December that international observers described as unfair.

On Dec. 17, President Aleksandar Vucic’s populist Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) secured nearly 47% of the votes in the parliamentary election and the opposition alliance Serbia Against Violence (SPN) almost 24%.

International observers said the ruling party had gained an unfair advantage through media bias, the improper influence of Vucic, and voting irregularities such as vote-buying.

At the opening session, opposition lawmakers blew whistles and waved banners reading “Election fraud” and “You stole elections”, trading insults with their SNS counterparts.

Radomir Lazovic, an opposition lawmaker, said plainclothed police and the parliament’s security detail had stepped up checks at the parliament building to intimidate the opposition.

“They are using force to protect their prey but I believe that the power of honest citizens and the power of truth is stronger,” he told reporters in the lobby.

Since the election, the SPN, other opposition parties and civil society groups have staged protests to demand a rerun of the vote. Marinika Tepic, an SPN leader, went on hunger strike.

Serbia’s opposition and rights watchdogs accuse Vucic and the SNS of stifling media freedoms, violence against opponents, corruption, and ties with organised crime. Vucic and his allies deny these allegations.

Serbia is a candidate for membership in the European Union, but before it joins the bloc, it must first reform the judiciary, rule of law, and media freedoms, and root out corruption, organised crime, and corruption.

On Tuesday, opposition deputies refused to take an oath of allegiance inside the session hall and instead took their oaths in the lobby. The parliamentary session was then adjourned.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Ros Russell)

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