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NEWS 25 Apr 17

Serbia Protesters Mark Savamala Anniversary

Several thousand protesters in the Serbian capital marked the first anniversary of the controversial demolitions in Belgrade with a protest entitled 'On the Trail of Phantoms'.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Protesters at the Belgrade city assembly. Photo: Srdjan Garcevic/BIRN

Around 4,000 protesters led by the campaign group “Let’s not drown Belgrade” marched on the Serbian government building and the Belgrade city assembly to mark the first anniversary of the controversial nocturnal demolitions in the city's Savamala district.

“Let us send a message to [Prime Minister] Aleksandar Vucic that we will not accept a fake sultan,” Jovo Bakic, assistant professor at the Belgrade Faculty of Philosophy, told protesters gathered at the site of the demolition work.

Masked men armed with baseball bats and equipped with diggers demolished three small houses in Hercegovacka Street on the night between April 24 and 25 in 2016, when public attention was occupied with the counting of the votes from the previous day's parliamentary elections.

A group of masked men also seized mobile phones from eyewitnesses and tied some of them up. Residents and workers in the street called the police for help, but according to a report by the then Ombudsman, Sasa Jankovic, the police declined to take any action.

The rally set off from Hercegovacka street, the protesters carrying the now famous symbol of the protest movement - a 15-ft high inflated rubber duck.

Banners read “Duck You”, “Masks Have Fallen” and “Our City”, as people chanted “Down with the dictatorship”, occasionally calling on people in surrounding buildings to join them.

The protesters were cheered as they passed by refugees who are staying near the Belgrade central bus station.

Some wore colourful balaclavas, referencing the fact that last year’s demolitions were done by masked individuals who have never been identified.

They first went to the Serbian government building, which they pelted with toilet paper before moving on to the city assembly.

In their final speech, “Let’s not drown Belgrade” invited the crowd to join all other protests going on across Serbia.

The demonstration was joined by student activists from Belgrade and Novi Sad who have been participating in anti-government protests for the past three weeks.

It was also supported by members of various trade unions - the Military Union of Serbia, the Police Union of Serbia, the Independent Union of Workers in Educational Institutions of Vojvodina, the Independent Association of Unemployed People of Serbia, and one of the biggest umbrella unions, Nezavisnost, representing workers from various trades.

It is generally believed that the sites on the riverbank were demolished to make way for the Waterfront project, a grandiose redevelopment project which the government says will help renew and beautify the city - but which protesters have bitterly opposed, insisting that the terms of the contract are not transparent and that the redevelopment will only help the rich.

In June last year, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, now Serbia’s President-elect, admitted that senior officials in the city were behind the demolitions.

In July, the Mayor of Belgrade, Sinisa Mali, said he was ready to take “any kind of responsibility” for the demolitions, but “only after competent investigative authorities finalise their work”.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mali, whose term expires next year, announced that he will not seek re-election.

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