Police have detained seven Croatian youths for beating up a group of Serb religious students near an Orthodox monastery in an allegedly ethnically-motivated attack.
The youths were arrested on Monday after the weekend attack which sparked widespread condemnation from Croatian political leaders.
Police said in a statement that the youths “first verbally then physically attacked eight students from the Krka monastery”.
The students were set upon with baseball bats and iron bars on the road from the village of Kistanje to the well-known medieval Serbian Orthodox monastery on Sunday. Five were injured, one of them seriously.
The attack was motivated “by hate”, police said.
The suspects were charged with committing a hate crime and are being held in the coastal town of Sibenik.
Politicians described the incident as unacceptable.
Croatian President Ivo Josipovic said that “we have to save our constitutional order and say no to those who would provoke ethnic clashes and even physical violence”.
Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic accused right-wing politicians of fuelling ethnic tensions before upcoming European parliament elections in the country.
“Parties of the right are spreading pure and distilled hate,” Milanovic said on Monday.
Milorad Pupovac, a Croatian MP who is also president of the country’s Serbian National Council, called the attack “a blow to the constitutional order and lawfulness in Croatia”.
“We expect the authorities to do their job and protect the law, but we also expect a reaction from the public and institutions which have an influence on people,” Pupovac said.
Meanwhile Tomislav Karamarko, president of the opposition Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, which was accused by Milanovic of fanning ethnic strife, said that “attacks like that shouldn’t happen in a Croatia which is entering the EU”.
Karamarko expressed hope that ethnic hatred was not the motive for the attack.
But he did not comment on an earlier statement by the HDZ’s local leader in Kistanje, Roko Antic, who claimed that “the incident occurred because Krka monastery is a hotbed of Chetnik [Serbian nationalist] ideology in Croatia”.