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SURREAL EVENING ON REPUBLIC SQUARE

After the opposition rally yesterday afternoon, about 100 teenagers went to stand in front of the police cordon which was blocking Kolarceva Street. At the beginning the teenagers were barking at the police, who are called "dogs" in Serbian slang, and deposited a pile of bones for them directly in front of the cordon. The opposing sides then stood facing each other in silence for about half an hour.

When the Zajedno coalition finished its march of about 50,000 supporters down adjacent Knez Mihajlova Street to end the protest, police began to withdraw from the area, but the teenagers didn’t move. When a police squad came at them from behind, the teenagers fled to Republic Square, which was full of evening pedestrians and shoppers.

Police then began to withdraw to allow normal traffic to resume on the streets. SerbiaNow! reporters who were in the area were nearly hit by stones thrown by the teenagers at two departing police vans across from the square. One of the vans stopped, and the teenagers continued throwing rocks at the vehicle. After a few minutes, when the police van drove off, it seemed that everything had quieted down.

However, about 7:30 p.m., Republic Square became the scene of a bizarre outbreak of violence.

The group of teenagers who had earlier harrassed police began throwing stones at random passing cars, breaking windows and mirrors. Although police were deployed on neighboring streets, none were present on Republic Square for more than 40 minutes while the hooligans had their fun.

When they hit the rear window of a car with French diplomatic plates, the driver came out to investigate. The teenagers stormed at him and started to beat him.

Just as the French diplomat was about to be lynched by the group, one man from the crowd of onlookers, wearing a wool cap and leather jacket, suddenly pulled out a police badge and gun, and fired three or four shots in the air. The stunned teenagers let go of the diplomat, who drove off. The plainclothes policeman then held his gun pointed at the teenagers as he slowly withdrew, escaping into a taxi, and rode away.

The events occurred in front of bus station #26 on Republic Square. The hooligans withdrew about 50 meters to the cinema Jadran, but somehow two civilians, who presented themselves as plainclothes police, caught two of the youths. They stopped a trolleybus, #29, and handcuffed the perpetrators to the seats.

A group of 6 or 7 teenagers then began hurling stones at the trolley, which attempted to drive away. However, the hooligans disconnected the trolleybus from its electricity supply. One civilian/policeman opened the door of the stopped trolleybus and shot a few bullets into the air.

The teenagers retreated to the Inex Restaurant while student medical and security personnel, who had heard the gunshots, came to provide assistance. Hearing, mistakenly, that there were injured people on the trolleybus, they inquired from a uniformed policeman who had appeared on the scene if they could go onto the bus. Receiving permission, one of them tried to enter the trolleybus from the rear, but a civilian/policeman shouted at him and pulled a gun, which he pointed at the medical assistant’s head.

He pulled the trigger, but the hollow click revealed an empty chamber. The medical assistant backed away in shock.

As the trolleybus drove off, dozens of riot police descended upon the square. Five students, two elderly men and one teenager were arrested, but all were later released from custody. There was one report of an elderly man being beaten by a policeman who had found a whistle in his pocket.

One Radio Index reporter said that his source in the police was listening to the entire event on the radio. When asked why police allowed the situation to escalate for 40 minutes without intervention, the source responded that they "had no order" to intervene.

Judging by this comment, the accidental involvement of the French diplomat seems to have ruined a possible provocation. The speculation is based on events in June 1993 when one spontaneous political rally resulted in the killing of one policeman and the arrest and beating of Vuk Draskovic and his wife who were initially blamed by the government for the violence. The incident was actually provoked by a group of football hooligans who turned out to be under the control of Zeljko Raznatovic, known as Arkan.

Shortly after the incidents at Republic Square, a group of policemen went to the Philosophical Department of Belgrade Unversity, where the students were holding a session of their executive committee. Police clubbed two or three students, and one of them broke the glass entrance door with his boot. The police commander calmed down the squad, which was shouting that the students had fired shots at them. Why the police were there and what they meant by their remarks is still unknown.

Students reacted emotionally to the incident, thinking that the police were preparing an attack on the university. After half an hour, however, downtown Belgrade appeared to be peaceful.

In numerous neighborhoods across the capital, small groups of 200-300 marched around town. Unlike previous nights, no riot squads was seen. In New Belgrade, one police car actually provided security for the marchers from the rear of the column, a first in over two months of protests.

The widespread violence and police brutality of the past two nights was not repeated this evening, as most police acted according to the law. No incidents were reported during tonight’s protests. The police units deployed today were from Belgrade, unlike in the past when they were bussed in from the provinces.

Copyright 1997 by Serbia Now!

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