An international monitoring mission says Serbia's election was held in unjust conditions

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia's recent disputed election was held in “unjust conditions” in part because of the president's involvement and systemic advantages for the ruling party, a report by international monitors said Wednesday.

The report by an office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also said the December election in the Balkan nation was “marred by harsh rhetoric, bias in the media, pressure on public sector employees and misuse of public resources."

Serbia is a candidate for European Union membership, but the populist government of President Aleksandar Vucic has faced accusations of curbing democratic freedoms. The opposition asserts it was robbed of a victory in the capital, Belgrade, and that the entire electoral process was irregular. The political tensions have led to large street protests.

Vucic and his ruling Serbian Progressive Party have denied wrongdoing. Election authorities declared the ruling populists the winners of the vote for the 250-member Serbian assembly and for municipal authorities in some 60 communities.

Citing parts of the new report by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic accused opposition groups and independent media of creating a “false narrative” about the alleged fraud with an aim to destabilize the country.

“The elections in Serbia were free and fair,” Brnabic said, claiming the report proves it.

The report, however, said the “decisive involvement” of Vucic, “together with the ruling party’s systemic advantages, created unjust conditions for contestants.” It also noted “prevalent self-censorship among journalists and strong government influence on most media.”

Some in the opposition seized on the report to support their claims.

“When someone tells you that the elections took place in unequal conditions, favoring one man, one party, in an atmosphere of polarization and hate speech ... those are unjust, unfree and undemocratic elections,” said an opposition Serbia Against Violence leader, Marinika Tepic.

The opposition and some local election monitors have claimed that voters from abroad were added to voters' lists in Belgrade and bused in on election day to vote for the ruling party.

Those allegations "undermined public trust in the integrity of the local elections and also affected the acceptance of the parliamentary results,” the report said.

It urged authorities to conduct a “meaningful audit of the voter and civil registers with the participation of relevant stakeholders.”

Its other recommendations included implementing oversight mechanisms to prevent "intimidation and pressure on voters, including employees of public and state institutions.”