Thousands protest in Serbia against populist leader Vucic

People march during a protest against populist President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. Thousands of people have ralli...
People hold a banner that reads: ''#1out of 5 million'' during a protest against populist President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, De...
People hold a banner that reads: ''#1 out of 5 million'' during a protest against populist President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, D...
A woman blows whistle during a protest against populist President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. Thousands of people h...

People march during a protest against populist President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. Thousands of people have ralli...

People hold a banner that reads: ''#1out of 5 million'' during a protest against populist President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, De...

People hold a banner that reads: ''#1 out of 5 million'' during a protest against populist President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, D...

A woman blows whistle during a protest against populist President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. Thousands of people h...

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Thousands of people have rallied in Serbia, the latest protest accusing populist President Aleksandar Vucic of stifling hard-won democratic freedoms and cracking down on opponents.

The anti-government crowd poured Saturday into central Belgrade, blowing whistles and waving banners. Similar marches also were held the past two weekends in the biggest expression recently of discontent with Vucic's rule.

The street demonstrations erupted after thugs beat up an opposition politician last month — an attack that reminded many of times in the 1990s under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic, which were marked by brutal attacks against political opponents.

Critics say Vucic's government has fostered hate speech targeting opponents and imposed controls over the media.

Vucic, a former extreme nationalist who now says he will lead Serbia into European Union, has denied the allegations.