Eight killed in Serbia's second mass shooting in less than 48 hours

Serbian police said Friday they had arrested a man suspected of killing eight people and injuring at least 14 others in the country's second mass shooting this week, following a manhunt through the night.

Hours earlier, near Mladenovac -- about 60 kilometres (37 miles) south of the capital Belgrade -- a 21-year-old gunman armed with an automatic weapon opened fire from a moving vehicle before fleeing, state-run RTS television reported.

The shooting spree spread across three separate villages in the area, RTS said.

It prompted a manhunt through the night as police combed the woods near Belgrade.

An AFP photographer saw a helicopter circling overhead with a spotlight appearing to search for the fugitive gunman.

"Following a wide search, police arrested U.B.," police said in a statement, using only the suspect's initials.

"He is suspected to have killed eight and injured 14 people overnight. The injured are hospitalised."

The police said the man had been arrested near the central city of Kragujevac and about 90 kilometres from the scene of the attacks.

According to RTS, the suspect was arrested at the home of a relative and was in possession of four hand grenades and a large amount of illegal weapons and ammunition.

The incident happened less than 48 hours after the worst school shooting in Serbia's recent history, when a 13-year-old killed nine people, including eight fellow students, at a school in downtown Belgrade on Wednesday.

The back-to-back mass shootings have left the country in a state of deep shock, with thousands flocking to makeshift memorial sites while others have queued to donate blood.

- 'A disaster' -

The latest shooting is believed to have begun at around midnight.

The state broadcaster said the suspected shooter first opened fire at a schoolyard in the village of Dubona and killed a police officer and his sister along with others in the area.

The gunman then moved onto the nearby villages of Mali Orasje and Sepsin, according to RTS.

"We heard gunshots in the evening, but I thought it was fireworks, children fooling around. It did not even occur to me that something like this could happen," Zvonko Mladenovic, a Dubona resident, told AFP.

Mladenovic said his cousin's granddaughter had been shot and wounded.

"She was visiting her grandfather. This was where the kids were hanging out and... she was shot in the head," Mladenovic added.

"First those kids in Belgrade, and now this. This is a disaster."

At dawn on Friday, a heavy police presence could be seen in the area of the latest shooting.

Roughly 600 police personnel had been deployed to the area, according to RTS, with members of an elite anti-terrorist unit patrolling the highway.

Worried relatives gathered outside the emergency medical centre in Belgrade, where at least eight of the injured were hospitalised, N1 television reported.

Health Minister Danica Grujicic briefly visited the centre.

Serbia began a three-day mourning period on Friday during what is normally a festive time at the beginning of spring, with people flocking outdoors and filling cafes to meet friends and families.

- 'Difficult days' -

Mass school shootings are extremely rare in Serbia and President Aleksandar Vucic called Wednesday's tragedy "one of the most difficult days" in recent history.

In a national address after the school shooting, Vucic proposed stricter gun control measures, including a two-year moratorium on issuing permits for firearms.

The president said there were more than 760,000 registered firearms in the country of roughly 6.8 million people.

The interior ministry has appealed to all firearm owners to keep their guns locked in safes or risk having them seized.

Gun ownership is high in Serbia, where shooting ranges are popular but special permits are required to possess firearms.

The wars in the Balkans during the 1990s amid the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia also saw a large number of weapons circulate in the region.

The Vladislav Ribnikar elementary school remained closed off on Thursday, with police guarding the entrance.

Large crowds of mourners continued to flock to the school to pay their respects, placing flowers, toys and candles along the pavement.

On Thursday evening, people in the Croatian capital Zagreb and the Bosnian Serb administrative capital Banja Luka also lit candles and laid flowers.

Masses for the victims were held in Belgrade churches, while the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Porfirije called the shooting a "catastrophe, the likes of which has never happened in our nation and our homeland".

In the last mass shooting in the Mladenovac area, a war veteran killed 13 relatives and neighbours during a house-to-house rampage in April 2013.