As citizens of Belgrade continue to ask why no authorities reacted to their calls for help in the night of April 25, when about 30 masked men armed with baseball bats tore up multiple buildings in Belgrade using diggers and mistreated several locals, the Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic denied allegations that the police officers were ordered to stand down that night, in an interview with N1 Television Thursday.
The accusation stems from ombudsman Sasa Jankovic, who stated police refused to arrive at the scene in the Savamala neighborhood because they received that order from “the top”, according to his May 9 report.
During the night of April 25, while the votes in Serbia’s snap Parliamentary elections were being counted, a group of masked men entered Hercegovacka Street in black cars with tinted windows and concealed license plates. They then used diggers to demolish the buildings of several private businesses on the street. The group also mistreated passersby, taking away their mobile phones and threatening the potential witnesses to refrain from reporting the activities, writes the Serbian Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK), which published exclusive footage of the event.
That night, several buildings under the “Gazela” bridge on Braca Krsmanovic Street were also demolished in a similar manner by masked individuals.
As soon as the citizens got back their mobile phones, they called the police.
Witnesses said the officers then directed the distraught citizens towards the communal police, which does not have competencies to deal with such an issue. This is also confirmed by recordings of those phone calls, states Jankovic.
Among those recordings, which Jankovic requested, are allegedly also recordings of conversations between the dispatchers and their superiors. According to KRIK, in one of the conversations a police officer allegedly asks her superior “This is that Belgrade Waterfront thing, boss. Do I repeat what I did with the other thing?”, to which the other person on the line says, “Yes”.
The Belgrade Waterfront is a project the government signed with a United Arab Emirates-based company – the construction of a massive residential and office space complex, including the largest shopping mall in the Balkans, part of which is to be built in the area that was demolished during the event.
Both Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali denied any involvement of city or state institutions in the destruction of the neighborhood, and stated that they have no information on who might be responsible.
On May 6, city authorities initiated a cleanup of the demolished area – a move Commissioner for Public Information Rodoljub Sabic said may awaken suspicion that the motive of the cleanup was destroying evidence, in an interview with N1 Television.
Sabic also reacted to remarks made earlier this week by Vucic, who told journalists that he doesn’t know who is behind the destruction of the neighborhood – adding that the destroyed buildings did not have a construction permit in the first place. Sabic told N1 Thursday the remark about the building permits is irrelevant, since the masked group committed a number of crimes against citizens that night.
According to KRIK, Vucic said the perpetrators should be brought to justice because of the way the operation was conducted, but expressed his support for the buildings being destroyed – he himself would like to build something much better in their place, he said.
Meanwhile, Jankovic requested the Interior Ministry to apologize to the citizens for their lack of response, while the Belgrade Center for Security Policy, a local security research NGO, asked for Interior Minister Stefanovic and Police Director Vladimir Rebic to resign, according to KRIK.
Local media reports state that on Wednesday, thousands of citizens gathered in front of the Belgrade Assembly to protest the reaction of authorities to the events in Savamala, asking for resignations of several top city officials, including mayor Sinisa Mali.
A day later, KRIK reports that Stefanovic told state television in an interview that media are placing the Savamala issue at the forefront of the news, calling it a “spin”.