Smaller crowds, fewer incidents at Saturday protest across Serbia; charges filed

NEWS 11.12.2021 15:52
Reuters/Marko Đurica

A visibly smaller number of people turned out for the third roadblock protest across Serbia on Saturday, with many fewer incidents reported than in the previous two weekends, but with the police filing charges against several protesters who had conflicts with drivers who wanted to pass through blockages

N1 reporters at the protests said that there was no visible uniformed police presence anywhere but that there were some officers in plain clothes among the crowds who braved the cold and rain to continue the protests against plans to allow the Rio Tinto company to open a lithium mine in western Serbia.

Some environmental activists called the public to continue the protests. However, the two main demands – the withdrawal of two laws that favoured Rio Tinto’s plans – had been met by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. The calls to continue the protests included two basic demands – throw Rio Tinto out of Serbia and topple Vucic and his government.

Incidents involving angry drivers trying to get through the roadblocks were reported in Belgrade, Nis and Novi Pazar.

Incidents were reported at the end of the roadblocks when nervous drivers in Belgrade and Nis tried to get through the crowd before it dispersed. An N1 reporter in Nis said that a woman yelled at protesters before slapping one young woman and a reporter in Belgrade said that an intoxicated driver got out of his car and tried to punch his way through the crowd before being pushed back into the vehicle.

Late on Saturday, Nis’ police arrested two men charged with violent behaviour during the incident.

Also, after Saturday’s protest in Belgrade, Interior Ministry (MUP) said it would file criminal charges against a 31-year man also suspected of violent behaviour and added it was looking for another man whose identity it said it knew, suspected of taking part in the same incident.

Rodoljub Sabic, a lawyer and the head of the Civil Council for Protecting Human Rights, called on the authorities to “immediately suspend the issuance of misdemeanour warrants punishing participants in civil protests.”

On Sunday, a day after the protest, Serbia’s Cultural Center in Paris put up a banner reading ‘no Rio Tinto.”

A group of war veterans unfurled a banner saying Defending the Homeland to continue the roadblock for a few more minutes. They verbally assaulted an N1 reporter who asked them to identify themselves. That incident ended with a man who seemed to be leading the veterans telling the reporter he should be ashamed of himself for not recognising their insignia and turning away.

The crowd that turned out in Belgrade blocked the highway at the Sava Center in New Belgrade was visibly smaller than last week and, with the exception of the incident with the drunk driver, dispersed quietly after blocking the highway for an hour.

The crowd in the southern city of Nis also walked away from the roadblock after an hour, with only one incident reported. A group of protesters marched to the Ambassador Hotel, whose owner put up a picture of the Serbian President across the windows on all 15 floors. They left what a local artist called an ecological sandwich stuffed with plants for President Vucic, alluding to the sandwiches that all supporters of his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) get when bused to his public events.

Crowds of protesters in several other cities organised protest marches.

Earlier, the police in the town of Arandjelovac blocked the approach roads to the site where the protest was held, forcing people to walk some two kilometres to the gathering.

Residents of the city of Kraljevo staged their protest in front of the city police headquarters after several people were charged with misdemeanours for taking part in the protest over the past two weeks.