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Crisis 1999
News Archive 1999

"They started beating without a warning"
An eye-witness account of the 29th September Rally in Belgrade

Today's protest began as all those before. When organizers realized there's no point waiting for others to gather - the protest walk began. FreeSerbia reporters were on Terazije with some 1,000 people and waited. The head of the convoy was on the beginning of Terazije, in front of Democratic Party headquarters. The people filled whole of Kolarceva street meaning that there were, to be modest, some 10,000 people at the beginning of the protest walk.

And finally the protest walk began. It was like in a fairytale - few reporters, lots of protesters. A usual convoy was formed - in front were leaders of the Alliance for Change and representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church. After them were guys with flags of parties members of the Alliance, after them was a huge banner "Alliance for Change" and than the crowd.

front of the rally

However, we didn't get very far - the convoy was stopped on the corner of Kralja Milana Street (former Srpskih vladara, or more former Marsal Tito's Street) and Kneza Milosa Street. We encountered a police blockade, in ordinary uniforms. Further down the street one could have seen police patrol vehicle and another police blockade on the intersection of Kneza Milosa and Nemanjina street (near government buildings). We found out that there is a police armored vehicle in Kneza Milosa Street near the US Embassy. The crowd realized very soon that this blockade was very loose and not so serious, so it simply walked by it and continued down Kneza Milosa Street.

We resumed the walk with one aim - to reach Dedinje, luxury part of Belgrade, where Milosevic's home is located. There were lots of people, but unfortunately, there were also lots of police. Full equipment for riots breaking and green uniforms clearly indicated that these were special forces, much more serious than those we encountered first. We stood there for half an hour and nothing really happened. The police were advancing feet by feet, until they finally reached a position in front of the Yugoslav Army Headquarters, building completely destroyed by NATO bombardment.

Now there were some 30,000 people, maybe even more, chanting "Red bandits", "Go to Kosovo", "We're going for Dedinje", "KLA, KLA", "You've betrayed Kosovo", "This is Serbia" and barking at the police to provoke them... People were standing in front of the police. The crowd occupied the space in Kneza Milosa Street (5 lanes + wide sidewalk) from Admiral Geprat's to Nemanjina Street. It seemed for a moment that the walk would continue through Nemanjina Street to the Slavija Square, but the idea was abandoned.

Milan St. Protic, president of the "Odbrana" club, member of the Alliance for Change, was nearest to the police and explained to the press what had been going on. The police got backup, and the real mess among the reporters was a granny who slowly approached the police and began explaining why Serbia needs CHANGES.


The time passed, and the police was backed by special vehicles for riots equipped with water canons (3 pcs). Some minutes later three armored vehicles arrived to backup the police. The police warned the gathered and the journalists to keep 3 feet distance between themselves and the blockade.
Alliance for Change leaders sat in front of the police, giving an example to the others. The protesters sat down, determined to stay down until "something" happen.


Some rocks (cobblestones) were thrown at the police which caused some stir up among the policemen in the line up, but also among the journalists in the first line, nearest to the police.

A large number of under cover policemen were spotted. They were whispering in their communicators asking more back-up for the police. This time the police descended by Nemanjina Street forcing the crowd towards Kneza Milosa Street, making a right angle with the other part already mentioned. Those cops coming from Nemanjina Street were not specially equipped in green uniforms, they had specials' blue uniforms and batons in their hands.

It was clear that the situation would not stay the same for long. Less than a minute after the police made two blockades (one in Nemanjina, other in Kneza Milosa Street) they started to intervene (meaning: "they started beating without a warning").

The protesters escaped in nearby streets, one escaped up Kneza Milosa towards Kralja Milana Street, the other down Nemanjina Street towards the Railway station, and the last up Nemanjina street to the nearby park. The police also broke into three groups, beating demonstrators constantly, mostly old helpless people and younger protesters. Rally security saved the Serbian Orthodox Church representative from being beaten, because he could not escape the police.

A smaller group tried to fight back, throwing stones at the police and making trash can barricades, which infuriated the policemen who took their batons and started chasing the demonstrators.

In the Kralja Milana Street, situation calmed; smaller group of policemen formed a street-wide cordon. I heard the commander's order "let's go, slowly!", and than after someone from the line-up said something, I also heard "kill'em, kill'em!" Shortly after, a water canon joined the policemen, who begun pushing people from the sidewalk and preventing them to enter the public transport buses.

We move towards Terazije Street, where the small groups of demonstrators were summing up their impressions. Many of the fellow journalists weren't lucky: their cameras were destroyed and many of them weren't exempt from the "intervention", many got their own baton, most often in the stomach, despite all of them wore clearly visible "Press" signs.


One demonstrator said "I was waiting for this!" when asked did she expected something like this to happened. She asked us not to take her photo, because she could lost her job. In the meantime, cops stopped, and went back to Kneza Milosa Street.

Small groups begun arriving to the Square of Liberty, where the Alliance's leaders were expected to address the crowd. Around 5,000 people gathered at the Square, after the riots. The rumor was spread that Vlajko Stojiljkovic, federal minister of interior, and one of the indicted war criminals, personally led the previous police action. The news arrived that over 60 people were injured, including two professors of the Belgrade University.

People who were running trough Nemanjina, Sarajevska and Balkanska Streets, arrived too. It looked like their destiny was the worst. One of them said: "We went down the Nemanjina, police was chasing us towards Sarajevska Street. The ones who fell in that chaos, were beaten the most. In Sarajevska Street some stones were thrown, and people took the shelter behind garbage containers. Commanders were chanting "beat'em, beat'em... no mercy... more water!" [police used water canons on demonstrators]. They stopped when we entered Balkanska Street."

Shortly after Zoran Djindjic, president of the Democratic Party, addressed the crowd at the Square, saying that the Alliance knew that the cordons will prevent the demonstrators of reaching Dedinje, but they didn't knew that regime is so afraid of its own people, and that it will react like that in the defense of the Milosevic's bedroom. Djindjic invited the citizens to avoid clashes with the police because "policemen are also humans and have kids and families like we do." "We shouldn't go after each other. We should recognize Milosevic in each policeman and go after him. He should be on our aim," Djindjic said.

end of the rally

Dragan Milovanovic, president of the Assoication of free and independent unions, Vuk Obradovic, president of the Social-Democratic Party, Milan St. Protic, president of the "Odbrana" club and Vladan Batic, coordinator of the Alliance, invited pupils, students, workers, farmers... to join the protests, and to be wise, persistent and determined.

Vladan Batic emphasized that those who beaten the demonstrators today were special police units, and not the ordinary police officers, we see every day - "Causescue [Romanian communist dictator] had special police - Securitatea, and we all know how he ended."

Crowd especially greeted words of Milan St. Protic, who said that "this people from tonight cannot be stopped, no matter what force, tanks or police cordons are in use." Cedomir Jovanovic, Democratic Party official, closed today's rally, announcing that protests will continue "regardless of everything".

Source: Free Serbia

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