News 15 Feb 17

Serbia Marks Statehood Day with Protests

As Serbia celebrates its Statehood Day, the movement ‘Let’s Not Drown Belgrade' will stage a rally in the capital to demand resignations and accountability over controversial night-time demolitions.

BIRN Team
BIRN
Belgrade
The largest Let's Not Drown Belgrade protest attracted some 25,000 people in June 2016. Photo: Natalia Zaba/BIRN

Activists from the campaign movement ‘Let's Not Drown Belgrade’ plan a fresh rally in front of Belgrade’s city assembly building at 3pm on Wednesday, Serbian Statehood Day.

The campaigners will demand the resignation of Belgrade mayor Sinisa Mali.

The protests come after Mali’s ex-wife Marija stated that the Belgrade mayor had admitted that he was responsible for the mystery demolitions by masked men in the Serbian capital’s Savamala district last year.

Marija Mali told the Network for Investigating Crime and Corruption, KRIK, in an interview published on Monday that that her ex-husband organised the demolitions to eradicate the remaining obstacles to construction of the government-backed Belgrade Waterfront development.

However, she did not provide any supporting material to back up her allegations.

Aleksandar Vucic, the Serbian Prime Minister, said in an interview with Serbian public broadcaster, RTS, that Mali would have to bare “political responsibility” for the  demolitions.

“He is a good manager…but the atmosphere is like that someone has to pay political price,” Vucic said on Tuesday.

He once again stated that senior officials in the city were behind the demolitions and that he would be proud on them if they have done it openly during the day, adding however that Marija Mali has been abused for political games.

On the nights of April 24 and 25 last year, about 30 masked men demolished buildings overnight in Belgrade’s Savamala district, where the huge government-backed Belgrade Waterfront complex is to be built.

The nocturnal action, which was widely seen as a move by authorities to clear the ground quickly for the project, sparked mass anti-government protests in the capital.

Serbian Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic said in a report in May that Belgrade police deliberately refused to respond to calls from people who saw the masked men, armed with baseball bats and equipped with diggers, tearing down buildings.

In June, Vucic admitted that senior officials in the city were behind the demolitions, a statement that sparked the largest protest yet as some 25,000 protesters poured into the streets to reiterate demands for the officials to accept responsibility and resign.

However, there have been no prosecutions over the incident, and those who ordered the demolitions have not yet been publicly identified.

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