Belgrade mayor defends six months of Christmas cheer

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Pedestrians walk past a Christmas tree and a giant Christmas decoration in central Belgrade. Year end decorations will be dismantled only in March said Belgrade mayor Sinisa Mali. The 18-metre (59-feet) tall Christmas tree in Belgrade's pedestrian zone sparked controversy as its price, 83,000 euros, makes it one of the most expensive in the world. - AFP

BELGRADE - Workers began removing a giant Christmas tree Monday from Belgrade's main shopping street, where it has been part of lavish holiday decorations in the Serbian capital for no fewer than six months. Mayor Sinisa Mali defended the prolonged festive period - which has grown longer each year since he won the keys to the city in 2014 - by saying the Serbian capital is "a European metropolis and we must be competitive". "People decide on where they want to celebrate the New Year in June, July, and not on Dec. 25," Mali said on the private TV channel Prva. But public anger was sparked when it emerged that the tree alone cost taxpayers 83,000 euros ($100,000), while the opposition alleged that the tree pointed to a pattern of corruption. "There are a lot of scandalous things in the city budget, and the Christmas tree is only the tip of the iceberg," said Nikola Jovanovic of the right-wing opposition People's Party. - AFP


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