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NEWS ALERT: Water Cannon and Tear Gas in Belgrade
Eyewiness testimony arriving by e-mail, as well as on the scene
reporting by Radio B92 (program in Serbian), indicate that a massive
crackdown by the riot police deployed in Belgrade for the past several
weeks has just taken place on the streets of the Serbian capital.
At 11:30 p.m. local time [5:30 p.m. EST], several thousand policemen
attacked the demonstrators gathered at the approach to Branko's
Bridge. The police had been blocking the bridge between Belgrade and
its New Belgrade suburb for more than two hours, preventing the
30-40,000 protesters who had arrived from the Republic Square from
joining the 10-15,000 demonstrators in New Belgrade.
By 11:30 p.m., and at the urging of Zajedno coalition's leaders,
the crowd had thinned out to about 5,000 people who then turned back
and proceeded to walk towards the city center. At that point, the
riot police quickly surrounded the demonstrators and, without the
slightest provocation, began to blast them with water cannon and tear
gas. The protesters, among whom were numerous women, older people and
children, immediately began to disperse, pursued by riot police who
attacked them with billy clubs.
Similar scenes occurred elsewhere in the city. In downtown Belgrade,
the police attacked and injured scores of demonstrators gathered at
the Republic Square. Vesna Pesic, leader of the Civic Alliance, one
of the parties in the opposition coalition Zajedno, sustained a minor
injury. In an interview given to Radio B92 after the attack, Vesna
Pesic explained that she had been hit on the arm but was protected
from further police brutality by the protesters who formed a buffer
between her and the riot police.
Both Vesna Pesic and Vuk Draskovic are currently in hiding at
separate locations in Belgrade. Speaking by telephone on a Radio B92
contact program early Monday morning, both Pesic and Zoran Djindjic
announced that the protests will continue.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the Serbian capital, the police are
reported to have stormed the building of the School of Philosophy,
beating those gathered inside and arresting a number of those present.
Throughout the early hours of Monday, local Belgrade time, ambulance
sirens could be heard all over the downtown area, by all appearances
rushing to the scenes of most serious police attacks, as reported live
by Radio Index and Radio B92.
As of the writing of this News Alert, the situation in Belgrade seems
to have calmed down. Both the demonstrators and the police have
retreated from the streets, some of which are still reeking of the
tear gas used in Sunday night's police action.
Vaska Andjelkovic Tumir
Associate Fellow, Massey College