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News 28 Apr 16

Belgrade Officials Deny Green-Lighting Nocturnal Demolition

Belgrade city authorities deny all knowledge about 30 masked men who demolished several buildings in the proposed Belgrade Waterfront area and allegedly mistreated locals.

Sasa Dragojlo
BIRN
Belgrade
Some of the citizens made a joke poster adding the masked person on the Belgrade Waterfront banner | Photo: Facebook

Belgrade police and Mayor Sinisa Mali have denied all knowledge of 30 masked men armed with baseball bats and equipped with diggers who tore down buildings on the city riverbank between Sunday night and Monday and allegedly beat up locals.

Following a demand for a response from the Commissioner for Public Information, Rodoljub Sabic, city authorities on Wednesday said they had no information on the incident.

Public Information chief Sabic told BIRN that the response from the authorities had been inadequate.

“The Mayor's response is unacceptable. The city authorities cannot just say, 'We are not involved and do not know anything'. They have a responsibility to the public,” Sabic said.

Flood of criticism for Belgrade waterfront:

Talks about the Belgrade Waterfront project started in 2014. Plans include the construction of residential and office buildings, the largest shopping mall in the Balkans, a hotel, an opera house and a skyscraper.

Aleksandar Vucic, the Prime Minister, says the project is important for the development of the country.

The government signed the contract for the project with Eagle Hills, a company based in the United Arab Emirates, on April 26 last year.

However, the project has caused controversy. The government has been accused of failing to respect legal procedures, of censorship of the project's opponents and of lack of transparency.

After five months, the government published the contract on September 20, 2015.

Documents published on the government website show that the parties in the project are the government’s “Belgrade waterfront” company and “Belgrade waterfront equity investments” as its strategic partner.

Al Mabar International Investments, from the UAE, is the guarantor.

The deadline for implementation is 30 years. After 20 years the first evaluation of progress will take place. The project will be evaluated positively if 50 per cent of the project is completed by then.

Apart from government officials, few experts have voiced positive views about the project or the contract.

 

Sabic added that he had talked with Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic and the State’s Prosecutor’s Office and both had pledged to clear up the mysterious affair.

Milos Djordjevic, one of those who was allegedly intercepted and detained by the masked men, told BIRN that at around 2am on Monday three men with masks had intercepted him, taken his phone and detained him in a shed in a parking lot.

“Refusing to show me their legitimacy [their official ID] they pulled me out of the car, abused me behind the parking lot and kept me there for an hour-and-a-half. They were telling me: 'Keep your mouth shut and face to the ground,'” Djordjevic recalled.

“After that, they detained me in a shed... After a while, probably when they had demolished the buildings, they told me that I could go,” Djordjevic said.

When he exited the shed, Djordjevic said he saw more than 20 people and three diggers, which were demolishing buildings in Hercegovacka St on the riverside in the Savamala area.

“Previously, they had tied up a night watchman and taken his cell phone and when someone called him, they told him to say he would call back later,” Djordjevic said.

According to information that Commissioner Sabic received, city police refused pleas to come to the scene and directed locals to the communal police instead.

A number of buildings including the restaurant Sava Ekspres, the family house, the Iskra company and several other sites were demolished during the night-time action.

Doubts about the city authorities' ignorance of these events has been fuelled by the fact that the area affected forms part of the land that must be cleared for construction of the city’s ambitious Belgrade Waterfront project.

On Wednesday, only yards from the same spot, city authorities tore down a refugee aid centre in the Savamala district to make way for the Belgrade Waterfront.

While Serbia's government sees the Waterfront as a major contribution to the city's economic future, critics claim the deal with Eagle Hills, a company based in the United Arab Emirates, is unconstitutional because it has involved suspension of Serbian laws on the Waterfront's territory.

Many people living along the Sava river quayside also say the development will be bad for society as a whole and will only serve the rich.

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