(Bloomberg) -- Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic stepped down as the head of his political party in a concession seen as symbolic amid swelling street protests.

Vucic, who has led the Progressive Party for 11 years, told reporters Saturday his Defense Minister Milos Vucevic will replace him as party president. Vucic remains president of the country.

“Our politics won’t change, we will remain the engine of development of our homeland,” said the Progressive Party’s president Vucevic, according to state news agency Tanjug. Srdjan Milivojevic, a lawmaker from the opposition Democratic Party, told the N1 news outlet the change in leadership shows the ruling party is “one big family business.”

Previously, the president had raised the possibility of holding early elections as he seeks to defuse rising street protests in the wake of mass shootings that shocked the nation. A fourth opposition protest is scheduled for Saturday.

Two massacres this month, including Serbia’s first in a school, killed 18 people, most of whom were students, and wounded 20, triggering protest marches by tens of thousands of people in the Balkan country’s biggest cities.

The ballot would be Serbia’s third since 2020, pitting the center-right Progressive Party against a fractured opposition. Liberal parties are calling for Serbia to join European Union sanctions against Russia to move closer to membership in the bloc, while conservatives and nationalists are opposed.

Since starting EU membership talks in 2014, the country of 7 million has balanced its historic ties with Russia with the proclaimed goal of joining the bloc. Serbia relies on Russia for gas supplies and for support in challenging independence of Kosovo, which broke away in 2008 after a war.

Vucic has dismissed the opposition-led protest marches as attempts to exploit the fatal shootings for political gain. He’s launched a national campaign to hand over illegal as well as licensed guns to reduce the risk of such attacks.

(Adds Vucevic, opposition comments in third paragraph)

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