Serbia shootings: Education minister Branko Ruzic resigns

BELGRADE, Serbia –

Serbia’s education minister submitted his resignation Sunday following two mass shootings, one of them at a primary school, left 17 people dead, while the European country’s government urged citizens to turn in all unregistered weapons or run the risk of a prison sentence.

Education Minister Branko Ruzic is the first Serbian official to resign over the shootings despite widespread calls for more senior officials to step down in the wake of the back-to-back bloodshed. Ruzic cited the “catastrophic tragedy that has engulfed our country” in explaining his decision.

Soon after the attack at the school in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital on Wednesday, Ruzic was quick to blame “the cancerous, pernicious influence of the internet, video games, so-called Western values.” Such criticism is common in the Blakan nation, where pro-Russian and anti-Western sentiments have thrived in recent years.

On Sunday, the Interior Ministry said individuals could hand over illegally owned weapons between Monday and June 8 without facing any charges. Those who ignore the order will face the prosecution and if convicted, potentially years behind bars, government officials have warned.

Police said the amnesty would apply to guns, grenades, ammunition and other weaponry.

In his third address to the nation since the killings, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said, “We expect to get millions of bullets that way.”

The populist leader criticized the opposition for planning protests against his government for the way it handled the crisis, saying “it’s done nowhere in the world. It’s bad for the country.”

Weekend funerals were held for the victims of the shootings at the Belgrade school on Wednesday and in a rural area south of the capital city on Thursday night. The violence, which also wounded 21 people, has stunned and anguished the Balkan nation.

While Serbia is awash with weapons and tops the European list of registered arms per capita, it is no stranger to crisis situations following the wars of the 1990s that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The most recent previous mass shooting was in 2013, when a war veteran killed 13 people. The assassin in the country’s first mass school shooting was a 13-year-old boy who opened fire on his fellow students, killing seven girls, a boy and a school guard.

The next day, a 20-year-old man fired randomly in two villages in central Serbia, killing eight people. Both he and the boy in the primary school attack were appreciated.

While the country struggled to come to terms with what happened, the authorities promised a gun crackdown and said they would improve security in schools and all over the state.

“We invite all citizens who possess illegal weapons to respond to this call, to go to the nearest police station and hand in weapons for which they do not have proper documents,” said police official Jelena Lakicevic.

The voluntary surrender applies to all firearms, explosive devices, weapon parts and ammunition that people keep illegally in their homes, Lakicevic said.

Serbia has refused to fully face its role in the wars of the 1990s, war criminals are largely regarded as heroes and minority groups routinely face harassment and sometimes physical violence.

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