World Bulletin / News Desk
Around 1,000 Serbian army soldiers and supporters took to the streets of Belgrade Sunday to rail against low wages and poor working conditions, in the first-ever public protest of the kind, local media reported.
"If a Serbian soldier cannot feed his family... it is a problem," union leader Novica Antic was quoted telling the crowd.
The union claims that more than three-quarters of the army's employees have monthly wages lower than Serbia's national average, which was 370 euros ($389) in October.
This year 1,000 people left the Balkan country's armed forces due to low salaries and poor working conditions, Antic said.
The protesters, carrying Serbian and union flags, later delivered a letter to the office of President Tomislav Nikolic, also the supreme commander of the country's armed forces, calling on him to "protect" them.
Defence Minister Zoran Djordjevic, who had opposed the rally, said later that only about 200 members of the Serbian army joined in the protest, and that he was "proud of Serbia's army members for not joining the call of politically-motivated union leaders."
Serbia's army has undergone a series of reforms since the ouster of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
The armed forces are fully professional since 2011 and now estimated to number some 30,000.
Military experts estimate that about 2.5 million of Serbia's population of 7.1 million could be called up for service if needed.
In 2006, Serbia joined NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme -- a cooperation framework for NATO member aspirants -- but it also has close ties to Russia and adopted a policy of military neutrality the following year.
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