March 16, 2020 / 8:24 PM / 13 days ago

UPDATE 1-Serbia postpones April 26 elections as part of response to coronavirus outbreak

(Adds political background, coronavirus details)

BELGRADE, March 16 (Reuters) - Serbia’s state Election Commission postponed on Monday the April 26 general elections because of the coronavirus outbreak and until a state of emergency is lifted.

“All the deadlines regarding the election process will be set after the end of the state of emergency,” the commission said in a statement.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who is also the head of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), on Sunday declared the state of emergency in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.

The Balkan country closed kindergartens, schools and universities until the end of the semester, deployed military to guard hospitals and police to monitor hundreds of people in isolation.

It also ordered elderly over the age of 65, most vulnerable to coronavirus infection, to stay indoors. Serbia has already closed borders to foreign nationals.

Health authorities have so far reported 57 cases of infection and tested 316 people. There have been no fatalities so far.

The vote is seen as important for Vucic and the SNS to cement its grip on power. Most opposition parties have decided to boycott the elections, accusing Vucic and his allies of autocracy, stifling media freedom, attacks on opposition activists, corruption and ties to organised crime.

Vucic and his coalition, who had an overwhelming majority in the outgoing 250-seat parliament, deny the accusations. (Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Sandra Maler and Grant McCool)

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