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NEWS 31 May 17

Scuffles Erupt as Serbia's President is Sworn In

Supporters and opponents of the Serbian Progressive Party clashed in Belgrade as Aleksandar Vucic was sworn in as Serbia's new head of state.

Filip Rudic
Milos Miskov/Beta.

Several incidents, including attacks on journalists, marked a gathering of Aleksandar Vucic’s supporters outside the Serbian parliament, while he was being sworn in as the new President on Wednesday.

Thousands of Progressive Party supporters, who were brought in by buses, celebrated the start of Vucic’s presidency outside the assembly, while scattered groups of anti-Vucic protesters tried to approach the building.

A journalist from the daily newspaper Danas, Lidija Valtner, reported being attacked while filming another incident.

"I was talking to a gentleman who was previously displaced by Progressive Party supporters for carrying an anti-government banner, when I saw two huge guys in black shirts drag away an activist from the [anti-Vucic] 'Against the Dictatorship' movement,“ Valtner told BIRN.

She said that one man tried to take away her cellphone when she tried to film what was going on. While she was defending herself against him, one of the men in black shirts grabbed her, pulling and shoving her to the nearby park.

At the same time, she said they dragged away the activist whom they held in a chokehold, while he shouted that they were suffocating him.

After she was released, Valtner says plain-clothes police showed up. She left the scene in shock, and the police did not ask for her statement.

"I will consult at the newsroom about what to do next," Valtner said, asked whether she will press charges.

Serbian journalists’ associations condemned the incident, demanding that the attackers face consequences.

On another occasion, police checked the IDs of BIRN, Insajder and VICE reporters without explanation after they filmed an incident in which Vucic fans ripped a banner carried by protesters.

Unidentified men tore the banner belonging to the protesters from the "Seven Demands" group, then left, while the police, who showed up moments later, checked the IDs of protesters and journalists.

Earlier, a fight erupted between two smaller groups of Vucic’s supporters and opponents, while both were heading towards the parliament.

In the ensuing scuffle, around ten men cordoned the exit. They pushed away a Radio Belgrade reporter and knocked out her audio recorder when she asked them who they were, according to the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia.

The opposition Democratic Party condemned the incidents, calling it a culmination of the atmosphere generated over the past five years while Vucic was in power.

"The brutal behavior of party hooligans must be universally condemned, but above all seriously investigated by the police. Questions that need answers are – who are those people, who brought them and with what intention?" the Democrats said in a press release.

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