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Serbian president defends probe against NGOs, other critics

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The Serbian president on Thursday defended a probe into money laundering and terror financing launched against dozens of rights groups and independent journalists critical of his and his government's policies.

Aleksandar Vucic denied that the investigation launched by the finance ministry against 20 individuals and 37 non-governmental organizations is a targeted attack on critics, saying it’s a regular proceeding and that “everyone should be equal before the law.”

Vucic said that every country needs a strong civil society, but added that those who are being probed “are making noise to look like they are under threat and thus get more money from their donors.” The civic groups have demanded that the Serbian government immediately cease what they say is an abuse of the mechanism against money laundering and financing terrorism to intimidate organizations that act as checks and balances for the executive.

The U.S. Embassy in Belgrade has expressed concern about “what appears to be a selective investigation.” The embassy statement added that the United States remains ready to assist Serbia on its path toward European Union membership.

“However the impression that official Belgrade wants to suppress civil society or the freedom of the media will damage Serbia’s reputation and make it more difficult to make progress toward this goal of great value,” the statement said.

Rights group Amnesty International said that “the targeting of journalists and NGOs on absurd allegations of money laundering and financing terror is a blatant act of intimidation and the latest in an ongoing campaign by Serbian authorities to silence critics.”

Serbia is formally seeking EU membership, but under Vucic it has shifted close to Russia and China and their authoritarian style of leadership.

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