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News 10 Jun 16

‘Mercenary’ Accusations Limit Demolition Fallout for Serbia Govt

Accusing Belgrade Waterfront opponents of  being ‘foreign mercenaries’ and confessing that top Belgrade officials were behind night-time demolitions appear to a government damage-control attempt.

Sasa Dragojlo
BIRN
Belgrade
One of the Let's not drown Belgrade protests against Savamala demolitions. Photo: Facebook

In an attempt to pacify rising public anger, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic admitted that top officials of Belgrade city government were involved in the April 24 night-time demolition, carried out by masked men, in the Savamala footprint of the Belgrade Waterfront development, while simultaneously labeling opponents to the project “foreign mercenaries”.

A month and a half after the mysterious demolitions of residential buildings and business premises by masked men in Hercegovacka Street in the Savamala district of Belgrade, Vucic admitted on Wednesday that top city officials were responsible.

“Without a shred of doubt, the highest city officials are behind the demolition in Hercegovacka Street  and they will pay the legal consequences,” Vucic told a press conference.

Radomir Lazovic, an activist with the Ne Davimo [Let’s not drown Belgrade] movement, which has held a series of mass protests demanding resignations over the Savamala demolition, told BIRN that Vucic’s admission is just an extorted confession.

“His back was against the wall. Vucic had to reduce the damage some way, since the public exerted strong pressure. Our PM reacts only to pressure. This has nothing to do with democracy or morality,” Lazovic said.

“He had to admit what everybody already knew,” he added.
 
Vucic also said that in spite of the illegal demolitions, he has the highest respect for Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali, who he said is the best mayor the city “since I can recall”. He said that he did not know if Mali would face any charges.

At the press conference, members of the media close to the government accused journalists from other media and Ne Davimo of being “financed from the outside,” to which Vucic replied that he was very well aware of that.

“I’ve known for that for a long time and I do not care,” Vucic said.

However, he made a parallel between Ne Davimo activists and anti-government protesters in Brazil, claiming it is strange that they both have a yellow duck as a symbol, suggesting that they are being instructed by an outside influence.

Zoran Stojiljkovic, head of Serbia's Anti-Corruption Agency, told BIRN that Vucic is labelling protesters and sending some of his people ‘down the drain’ because he needs to limit the damage from the controversy.

“Vucic did it just to leave an impression that the top of the regime is not behind everything. The courage of citizens and democratic protest made him do it,” Stojiljkovic said.

He added that labeling of citizens as foreign mercenaries “does make sense”, since Vucic is considers himself a pro-European politician with significant international support.

“That kind of labeling is something a xenophobic and isolationistic government would have done. Imagine someone telling him that he came out of Angela Merkel’s skirt or something. Those are not real arguments,” Stojiljkovic concluded.

The pro-government tabloid Informer published an article on Thursday calling  all non-governmental organizations that attended the protests ‘mercenaries’.

Lazovic said that the “foreign mercenaries” accusation are ridiculous since Ne Davimo is soliciting donations from citizens and doesn’t even have resources for the “right sound system” at the rallies.

Ne Davimo has scheduled a protest for Saturday, claiming they will continue to fight until all responsible resign, adding that they will demand new elections.

“We ask for moral, criminal and political responsibility….just as Vucic said at the press conference,” Lazovic said. “We will also ask for new elections, since this government showed they do not respect the laws nor citizens of this country.”

Belgrade authorities refused to comment on the matter when contacted by BIRN.

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