Serbia’s Vucic Pledges to ‘Disarm’ Nation After Second Mass Shooting

Welcome back to World Brief, where we’re looking at double mass shootings in Serbia, Russia’s Wagner Group withdrawal from Bakhmut, and the World Health Organization ending COVID-19’s emergency status.

Welcome back to World Brief, where we’re looking at double mass shootings in Serbia, Russia’s Wagner Group withdrawal from Bakhmut, and the World Health Organization ending COVID-19’s emergency status.

Serbia is in a state of mourning after its second mass shooting in two days. Late Thursday night local time, a 21-year-old man opened fire in the village of Dubona, roughly 37 miles south of the capital, Belgrade, before targeting at least one other nearby village, officials said. Eight people were killed and 14 others injured. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic deployed more than 600 Serbian special forces to search for the suspect, who was arrested early Friday morning. Officials also confiscated four hand grenades and other illicit weapons and ammunition at his home. The shooter’s motive remains unknown, though Vucic said the suspect was wearing a T-shirt with a pro-Nazi slogan.

Just 24 hours earlier, a 13-year-old boy used his father’s guns to kill at least eight students and a security officer as well as injure seven people at a school in Belgrade. Local authorities said they found detailed plans that indicated the assault had been planned months ago. The seventh grader, who called the police himself after the shooting and waited in the schoolyard to be arrested, was armed with pistols and Molotov cocktails when he was apprehended.

“We are united in pain and sorrow,” Vucic said at a press conference on Friday morning. “This is an attack on all our country, and every citizen feels it.” The president declared both events to be acts of domestic terrorism and promised to “disarm” the country by establishing tougher gun control laws. These include enacting stricter conditions for purchasing weapons, doubling fines for breaking the law, and implementing a national gun buyback program for those who cannot meet the new terms. Vucic also pledged to hire 1,200 new police officers in the next six months to strengthen school security. Despite the Serbian presidency being a relatively ceremonial position, Vucic maintains substantial power through his role as head of the country’s ruling party, the Serbian Progressive Party. “There will be justice,” he said. “These monsters will never see the light of the day.”

The Eastern European country has a complicated history with gun ownership. Serbia faced years of unrest following the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1992, when thousands of everyday Serbians formed armed militias to support Serbian ethnic nationalism. This included the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, when Serbian forces committed genocide against more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys, and the Kosovo War, when Serbians fought Kosovar Albanian nationalists seeking independence. Today, Serbia is tied with Montenegro as having the highest level of gun ownership in Europe as well as the fifth-highest level in the world. Despite that, Serbia had not experienced high levels of gun violence in recent years before this week’s tragedies.

Serbia is not the only country to experience a recent uptick in mass shootings. Researchers have connected U.S. school shootings and gun culture with increased incidents of gun violence worldwide. In the past nine months, Brazil has suffered 11 mass attacks; and last September, a gunman killed 17 people and injured 24 others at a school east of Moscow.

Leaving Bakhmut. Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group is saying paka to Bakhmut. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the mercenary force, announced on Friday that his troops would leave the Ukrainian city on May 10. According to Prigozhin, Wagner units were being withdrawn because “in the absence of ammunition they’re doomed to perish senselessly.” He lashed out at bureaucrats in Russia whom he blamed for his fighters’ lack of supplies, adding, “If, because of your petty jealousy, you do not want to give the Russian people the victory of taking Bakhmut, that’s your problem.”

Although the Kremlin has not commented on the exit, Prigozhin said the withdrawal will let his troops “lick our wounds” and that regular Russian army troops would take his men’s place. For months, Bakhmut has been the epicenter of the Russia-Ukraine war as Russian forces and Wagner mercenaries have tried desperately to capture the eastern Ukrainian city. Thousands of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers as well as Wagner troops have died.

COVID-19’s future. The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday officially ended the global health emergency declaration for COVID-19. The disease first received the WHO’s highest alert on Jan. 30, 2020, and public health experts continued to apply the label until now.

The decision to lift the declaration will have little practical impact, as many countries have already lifted their pandemic-related emergency declarations as well as travel and quarantine restrictions. This includes China, where the disease first originated and which faced some of the highest case numbers—and strictest lockdown measures—globally.

But the end of the global health emergency declaration does mark a symbolic milestone in a pandemic that ravaged the globe for more than three years and dramatically reshaped life in ways the world is still coming to terms with. As of Friday morning, 6.9 million people worldwide have died from the virus, more than 765 million people have been infected, and over 13.3 billion vaccine doses have been administered. Still, the disease is not gone. “The emergency phase is over, but COVID is not,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19.

Free at last. After nine years being held captive by the Boko Haram militant group, two Nigerian women have been rescued, Nigeria’s military announced on Thursday. Hauwa Maltha and Esther Marcus, now 26, were originally taken in April 2014, along with 274 other schoolgirls from the village of Chibok. The two women were freed in a military operation on April 21. Nigerian troops also rescued one of the women’s 1-year-old baby; the second woman rescued, who already had one child, gave birth to a second mere days after being freed. Their release brings the total number of women now out of Boko Haram captivity to 125, including 107 people released by the group in 2018, three rescued by troops in 2019, two rescued in 2021, and 11 rescued in 2022, according to Nigerian media.

Nearly 100 women remain missing despite international calls to free them. The Chibok kidnapping garnered widespread media attention after major world leaders, including then-U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, actively supported the viral campaign #BringBackOurGirls. Despite these efforts, the group has continued targeting schools as a means of weakening state security while gaining publicity and funding, Nigerian journalist Philip Obaji Jr. reported in 2021.

Not every Brit is thrilled to celebrate Charles III’s royal coronation on Saturday. In an overnight stunt, pranksters mowed a large phallus into the immaculate lawns outside the Royal Crescent in Bath, England. No better way to stick it to the king’s crown than with another man’s jewels.

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