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News 29 Sep 16

Serbia Waterfront Activists Renew Protest Marches

Activists from the civic movement opposed to the Belgrade Waterfront project have summoned a fresh rally for Thursday - as a government minister accused an OSCE official of interfering in Serbia's affairs over the controversy.

Milivoje Pantovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Protesters and activist Dobrica Veselinovic marching in Belgrade. Photo: BIRN/Natalia Zaba

Activists from “Let’s not drown Belgrade” ["Ne davimo Beograd"] - the civic movement set up to oppose the controversial Belgrade Waterfront project - said a new protest will take place on Thursday at which organisers intend to “remind the prosecution of their duties”.

"We want to remind them what their job is,” Dobrica Veselinovic, from the movement, said.

“Despite the passage of five months since the night-time demolitions in Hercegovacka Street and despite Prime Minister [Aleksandar] Vucic saying that top city officials were responsible for the demolitions, there are still no results from the prosecution," he added.

Veselinovic told BIRN that the movment expects the number of protesters to at least keep pace with the figures recorded before the summer break. Over 20,000 people attended a protest staged by the movement in late June.

"We expect the government media to continue not to report on the protests, or to report a lower number of people at them. But people from Subotica, Novi Sad, Kraljevo and other cities in Serbia will he coming to to join us [on Thursday],” he added.

On the night of April 24, a group of masked men blocked Hercegovacka Street in the city's riverside Savamala district, tied up witnesses, seized their mobile phones and then used bulldozers to tear down residential and commercial objects.

The street lies in the area that has been designated for the controversial Waterfront project.

A report by Serbia's Ombudsman in May said the authorities purposely refused to respond to calls from people who saw around 30 masked men armed with baseball bats and equipped with diggers tearing down buildings on the riverbank.

Citing the same report, a counsellor to the OSCE mission in Serbia, Maurizio Salustro, on Wednesday said it was clear that the demolitions were “planned at a high level”.

“Let us put aside what criminals did that night - the problem is what the police did, or better said, what they did not do. If you read the report, and if it is accurate, then there is proof that police inaction that night was deliberate and planned at a high level,” Salustro said, according to the regional TV station, N1.

BIRN has since asked the OSCE to clarify whether Salustro's cited words represent the official position of the OSCE.

Serbia's Interior Minister, Nebojsa Stefanovic, on Wednesday meanwhile accused Salustro of “crude interference with the internal affairs of Serbia” and added that he would demand an explanation from the OSCE.

'The OSCE is in contact with the Ministry for Internal Affairs and we will consider this issue through our regular communications,” the OSCE Mission in Serbia said in a written statement to BIRN on Wednesday.

The government believes the UAE-backed Waterfront project will transform the long neglected riverside area of the capital.

Opponents say the deal with developers was not transparent, is against the national interest, while the proposed development will only serve the purposes of the wealthy.

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