Tension takes hold in Belgrade after breach of public TV station

Police reportedly used tear gas against anti-government protesters who gathered Sunday outside the presidency building to demonstrate against Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Inside the building, Vucic was giving a press conference, commenting on protesters who had breached the building of Serbia’s public broadcaster RTS on the previous evening.

Images broadcast by regional N1 broadcaster showed opposition leaders trying to create a human chain around the building.

Vucic is a former ultra-nationalist who leads a nominally pro-European government. Protesters accuse him of using both violence and his grip on the media to stifle dissent. They also criticize his government for what they perceive as widespread corruption and incompetence. The weekly protests against Vucic started in December after an opposition leader was brutally beaten.

Protesters have also repeatedly accused Serbia’s public broadcaster RTS of not giving enough attention to the movement. On Saturday evening, a group of around 50 protesters separated from the main crowd and entered the RTS office. They were accompanied by Belgrade’s former Mayor Dragan Djilas and right-wing leader Bosko Obradovic. 

Supporters of the protests among Serbian immigrants in Vienna published a video from inside the building.

Other images from the scene showed one man, presumably a protester, carrying a chainsaw in the building.

The group had wanted to read their demands on air.

RTS denied the request. After several hours in a tense standoff, special police units cleared the protesters out of the building.

Protesters outside could be heard inside the presidency building while Vucic gave a speech in which he described former mayor Djilas as a “tycoon” and right-wing opposition leader Obradovic as a “small-time facist.”

Protesters inside the seat of public broadcaster RTS (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Vojinovic)

Protesters inside the building of public broadcaster RTS

The president also said protests were led by “the worst thieves” and that state would not let “tycoon bullies and fascist goon squads” to threaten journalists.

Vucic also said all those responsible for the breach “would be answering before a court of law.”

During his address, Vucic also warned that protesters were attempting to enter the building.

“If they break in here, I will wait for them,” he said, adding that Serbs from Kosovo were preparing to come to Belgrade to protect him, but there was “no need” for that.

dj/sms (AFP, dpa, AP)