Officers, reporters hurt in clashes with hooligans

BELGRADE -- Youths with masked faces clashed with police around 22:00 CET in Belgrade on the fringes of a protest rally.

Aleksandar Vučić, center, sufferes from tear gas inhalation (FoNet)
Aleksandar Vučić, center, sufferes from tear gas inhalation (FoNet)

Some one hundred hooligans, likely football fans, attacked the police, breaking shop windows and throwing stones, firecrackers and lit flares at riot police officers forming a cordon in Makedonska St. close to the Republic Square where a pro-Karadžić rally was ongoing on Tuesday night.

Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, pushing the rioters toward the main stage, cutting the rally short.

Several MUP officers were seen injured at the scene, broadcast live on B92, while Belgrade medical emergency services said 25 policemen and 21 civilians were injured, among them Beta news agency reporter Miloš Đorolijeski, and Oscar Martinez Forcada, a Spanish television cameraman.

The extent of any of the injuries is not thought to be life-threatening.

The situation is now under control, top MUP officials have announced.

Opponents of Radovan Karadžić's arrest gathered in Belgrade for a protest rally earlier this evening. The protest, organized by the opposition Serb Radical Party (SRS), started at 19:20 CET.

MUP said that some 16,000 people had gathered. They were chanting the names of Mladić, Karadžić, Šešelj and Milošević, and also insults aimed at Boris Tadić.

"Serbia is stronger than the treasonous government that has arrested the greatest living Serb, is the message of tonight's rally," Beta news agency surmised the speeches tonight from the protest gathering.

Rajko Nogo, a poet, said that he brought a message from Radovan Karadžić himself. The former Bosnian Serb leader asked those who knew him as Dragan Dabić "to forgive him", because had they known his real name, he would have made them his accomplices.

In a message sent by the leader of the Serb Radical Party (SRS) Vojislav Šešelj, undergoing a war crimes trial at the Hague, and read by SRS official Nemanja Šarović, Šešelj accused the “the traitor regime of Boris Tadić” for arresting one of those who created the Republic of Srpska and for extraditing him to those who “murdered Slobodan Milošević.”

The SRS leader said that by Karadžić’s arrest, Tadić "committed an act of treason, attacked Serbia, jeopardized the existence of the Republic of Srpska and made a colony out of Serbia".

Milan Ivanović, one of the leaders of the Serbs living in Kosovo and a member of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) said that the Karadžić arrest meant "a termination of the the Republic of Srpska and a kidnapping of Kosovo".

“We shall never surrender neither the Republic of Srpska, Serbia, nor Kosovo. We shall never surrender Radovan,” Ivanović exclaimed and called on the citizens to “fight the oppressors”.

High officials of the SRS, Tomislav Nikolić, Aleksandar Vučić, Nataša Jovanović and Dragan Todorović appeared on stage, along with the leader of New Serbia, a coalition partner of the former Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica’s DSS, Velimir Ilić.

“Thank you for enduring all the lies of their dirty media. Thank you for being Serbia’s future. Thank you for not being afraid. We shall love Serbia until our last breath. You are the future and you are the freedom,” SRS Secretary General Aleksandar Vučić said.

SRS deputy leader Tomislav Nikolić was the last to address the rally, appealing for calm, before the police internvention against a group of hooligans ended it.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Radicals said Karadžić's arrest last week was not the only reason for the protest supported by the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), New Serbia (NS) and some far right nationalist organizations such as Obraz and Movement 1389.

They also denounced what they saw as the regime repression, the state policy toward the Hague Tribunal and a media witch-hunt against those who express different opinions.

The Republic Square (Trg Republike) had a stage set for the event with a background reading, "Freedom for Serbia".

The speeches were planned to last for an hour, after which those gathered were to embark on a protest walk on the so-called media route, passing by some buildings housing major media outlets in Belgrade.

Ahead of the rally, Vučić said that the protest would be peaceful, and that it would continue until as undisclosed demands put before the authorties were met.

He described the demonstration as "resistance to Boris Tadić's dictatorial regime", while the Karadžić arrest, according to him, was the direct motive for the gathering.

The U.S. embassy today warned American citizens to stay away from the central Belgrade streets this evening.

More photos from the scene of the riots can be found here

Police ready

Riot police officers deploy (Beta)
Riot police officers deploy (Beta)

Police officers were out in force tonight at the site of the rally and also guarding some key locations in the city.

MUP in Belgrade said earlier in the day that they would undertake all security measures during today's rally in the capital.

Belgrade MUP chief Slobodan Vukolić said his officers would secure participants of the rally, reporters, and some venues and buildings of importance.

"The members of the Belgrade police, together with those from Žandarmerija [Gendarmerie], will, along with activities to protect private and state owned property, especially emphasize safety of those taking part in the gathering and those representing the media," Vukolić said.

MUP had announced that it would follow its regular procedure for the so-called high risk gatherings, that includes video-taping and photographing of the participants.