A number of incidents happened during Saturday’s protests across Serbia with angry protesters managing to chase away thugs who attacked them in at least two cases.
The protests took the form of road blocks on major roads, including the international highway through Belgrade. They were staged for a second week over the two new laws on referendums and expropriation which environmental organizations and the political opposition claim are linked to the Rio Tinto company’s plans to open a lithium mine in western Serbia.
A week earlier, physical assaults on protesters were reported in several places with the worst taking place in Sabac when an excavator was driven into the crowd and a group of young men in hoodies and face masks attacking protesters with clubs and mallets. The driver and another man on the excavator were beaten by angry protesters. In Novi Sad, an N1 crew reported scuffling with Gendarmerie personnel in riot gear and in Belgrade local police officers including a station chief manhandled several people.
This weekend’s violent incidents were reported in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Stara Pazova, Vranje and Valjevo. There were no reports of the police, in uniform or plain clothes, intervening anywhere. The groups of masked thugs who tried to disrupt the protests were alleged to be linked to the Serbian authorities.
A group of between 20 and 30 thugs alleged to be supporters of the Serbian regime rushed into a crowd blocking the roads around one of the main bridges across the Danube in Novi Sad and were chased away by angry protesters but returned to throw rocks and were chased away again. Protest organizers rescued one of the thugs who did not get away and was beaten. Local media identified several of the thugs. Earlier, a group of some 30 thugs surrounded and threw four students heading to the protest to the ground, hitting and kicking them. The students told reporters that they were then forced to stand in front of a camera, show their ID cards and say that they had been given 100 Euro each to take part in the protest.
A retired army lt. colonel was assaulted in the town of Novi Pazar, receiving blows to the head and suffering cuts and bruises. The Nova.rs portal reported that he was assaulted by supporters of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). A senior official of the opposition People’s Party (NS) identified one of the attackers as a SNS member who works for the local municipal administration.
A group of thugs assaulted the crowd blocking the highway in New Belgrade but were chased away by angry protesters. The thugs first lit torches on a bridge across the highway and verbally assaulted the protesters before starting fights. There were other incidents with angry drivers who were stopped by the protest, most of them limited to verbal battles, except in one case when a driver got out of his car at a bridge in the Belgrade neighborhood of Zemun and traded blows with one of the protesters before both men were separated.
Journalists were also attacked in Belgrade and Valjevo. Davor Lukac, a reporter with Belgrade-based FoNet news agency was assaulted by a group of young men while photographing cars parked near the site of the protest. One of the group stopped the others from striking him before shoving him away. In Valjevo, a local TV crew had one of its cameras damaged by a nervous driver who got into an argument with protesters.
Following the protests, both the ruling SNS and its smaller coalition partner the Movement of Socialists (which is headed by Internal Affairs Minister Aleksandar Vulin) reported vandal attacks on their local branches in Novi Sad and . Protesters threw stones at the windows of the Movement of Socialists offices in Novi Sad provoked by party activists waving flags and shouting and by posters of party leader Vulin. The SNS said in a Twitter post on Saturday evening that the windows on its offices in the Belgrade suburb of Mladenovac had been broken.