Thousands gather for rally supporting populist Serbia leader

Thousands are gathering in Belgrade for a mass rally in support of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who is seeking to counter months of protests demanding more democratic freedoms in the Balkan country.

Authorities have sealed off central streets in the capital Friday as Vucic's supporters arrive in buses from all over the country, neighboring Bosnia and Kosovo. In live broadcasts, the dominant pro-government media are lambasting opposition officials as "fascist and thieves."

Vucic has promised a "carnival atmosphere" at the rally he describes as Serbia's biggest in decades.

Anti-government demonstrators have been demanding free and fair elections and more media freedoms and have accused the president of autocratic tendencies.

Vucic formally advocates joining the European Union, but has remained pro-Russian since his ultranationalist past.