Vucic Supporters Rally in Belgrade

Welcome back to World Brief. We’ll be off Monday, which is Memorial Day here in the United States, and back on Tuesday. Today, we’re looking at a rally in Serbia, a deal brokered by Oman between Belgium and Iran, and a heat wave in Vietnam.

Welcome back to World Brief. We’ll be off Monday, which is Memorial Day here in the United States, and back on Tuesday. Today, we’re looking at a rally in Serbia, a deal brokered by Oman between Belgium and Iran, and a heat wave in Vietnam.

Tens of thousands of people came out in Belgrade on Friday to rally in support of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who has faced unprecedented public opposition in recent weeks following two high-profile mass shootings that rocked the country.

Vucic had called for a large rally, and participants were bused in from across Serbia as well as Kosovo and Bosnia. State institution employees were told to take the day off from work to attend the rally, which Serbian officials said was for “unity and hope.” The rally appears to have been a response to rising popular discontent with Vucic’s nationalist, autocratic rule. Three large anti-government protests were held earlier this month, with demonstrators demanding the resignation of Vucic and several senior officials. The protesters blame Vucic and his populist government for promoting intolerance and hate speech as well as creating division in the country, which they believe indirectly resulted in the mass shootings on May 3 and May 4. The shootings—a shocking rarity in Serbia—left 18 dead and 20 wounded.

Vucic has denied any responsibility and said those who say otherwise are “vultures” and “hyenas.” “They are not against violence, they want my head,” he said. Vucic has been president of Serbia since 2017. Prior to that, he served two terms as prime minister, beginning in 2014. Before that, in 2012, he was deputy prime minister, which is to say that he has been in a position of power in Serbia for over a decade.

The pro-Vucic rally was somewhat overshadowed by events in Kosovo, formerly a Serbian province that Serbia still does not recognize as independent, where police clashed with ethnic Serbs on Friday after a crowd tried to prevent a newly elected ethnic Albanian mayor from going to his office. The local elections that brought him to the mayor’s office were widely boycotted because ethnic Serbs’ demands for more autonomy were not met. According to reports, several people were injured and multiple vehicles, including a police car, were set on fire. Vucic placed his country’s army on full combat alert and ordered it to move closer to the Serbia-Kosovo border in response.

Prisoner swap. Belgium and Iran have carried out a prisoner exchange in which Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele was traded for Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat. The two men were first brought to Oman, which brokered the deal. Belgium said Vandecasteele spent 455 days in Tehran in “unbearable conditions,” while Iran said Assadi had been “illegally detained” for two years.

Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2021 after a Belgian court found him guilty of plotting a bomb attack. Vandecasteele was arrested in 2022 and sentenced in January to 40 years and 74 lashes after being convicted of espionage in what Belgium insisted was retribution for the Assadi case.

Wagner Mali chief sanctioned. The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned Ivan Maslov, the head of the private Russian paramilitary Wagner Group in Mali. The sanctions are part of a broader U.S. effort to push back on Wagner’s activities in Africa and support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“The Wagner Group may be attempting to obscure its efforts to acquire military equipment for use in Ukraine, including by working through Mali and other countries where it has a foothold. The United States opposes efforts by any country to assist Russia through the Wagner Group,” the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement. Wagner is believed to have tried to ship military equipment to Ukraine through Mali by falsifying paperwork.

Lights out. To save energy during an ongoing heat wave, cities in Vietnam are cutting public lighting. EVN, the country’s state utility, warned earlier this month that high temperatures could put pressure on the national power system. Energy-saving measures are intended to allow power to be used domestically and by the country’s manufacturing industry. “Authorities in many provinces and cities have taken measures to save energy to ensure stable and safe electricity supplies,” said a statement from the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

Vietnam is not the only country impacted by heat waves this spring: The heat has caused school closures and even death in India, and health warnings have been issued across Asia.

What in the World?

Which of the following campaign proposals from Thailand’s Move Forward Party was not included in the agreement signed on Monday by the country’s new governing coalition?

The elections are a clear sign the Thai people want change, which spells trouble for the military and monarchy, Jessica Keegan and Martin Kunze write.

To take the rest of FP’s weekly international news quiz, click here or sign up to be alerted when a new one is published.

Orcas are reportedly trying to capsize boats off the coasts of Portugal and Spain. Such incidents have more than tripled in the past two years. Researchers do not know why the orcas, also known as killer whales, are doing this, but they do believe the orcas are somehow receiving positive reinforcement for their behavior. Some have even speculated that it may be a sort of cultural fad among the orcas—akin to the time in 1987 when some orcas in the Puget Sound started wearing dead salmon on their heads like hats.

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