Earlier this evening the pro-Karadzic rally called by the Serbian Radical party turned violent (B92 report now online).
It all happened very fast, with a group of hooligans spotting a relatively isolated unit of riot police, putting on masks and attacking.
I think the incident could have been prevented by a more organised police response. The police were deployed side-on to the advancing hooligans (lining the road), and it took their commander way too long to order them to redeploy as a phalanx (lined up across the road).
They also nearly had a perfect opportunity to isolate and arrest the worst troublemakers. At around 21:48, the hooligans were forcing the police back down Makedonska, away from the junction with Decanska. Just then a unit of 30 cops suddenly appeared from Decanska and walked single file into Makedonska, trapping the hooligans between themselves and the other unit, who were now counter attacking. Unfortunately it took those cops too long to figure out that the people running past them were fleeing from their colleagues 200m away. They did eventually try to close the trap but they only managed to arrest 5 or 6 people (giving them a thorough hiding in the process).
Here is my time line from earlier…
21:42 – I am watching live on TV events I can hear right outside my window…Hooligans putting on masks and appearing to tool up on Makedonska.
21:43 – Now attacking cops with firecrackers and bottles.
21:48 – Cops are in a bad position, lined up longways on Makendonska. Another unit walked into it. One firebomb and flares. Cops withdraw down Makedonska towards Politika. Teargas used. Now its stirring up the main crowd at Trg Republika like hornets.
21:49 – Teargas used. Looting on Makedonska. Baton charge!
21:53 – Cops holding (just) corner of Decanska and Makedonska. Stone bins broken up for missiles. Reinforcements in vans heading up 29th November with sirens on.
21:56 – Cops using rubber bullets and flashbangs. Very badly organised. Some running off into battle without support then turning around to exhort their colleagues to follow. Bunched up. Very dangerous if there are petrol bombs.
22:01 – Cops have cleared Makedonska in a series of baton charges. Fighting now on Trg Republika. Ambulances helping wounded cops on Makedonska. Three or four with head injuries. Plain-clothes cops now emerging [ I saw this cop in the orange shirt on B92 chatting to colleagues after this incident]. A commander talking into his radio furiously. A stream of injured cops keeps heading down Makedonska to the staging area near Politika. Two lines holding the mob at the eastern edge of Trg Republika. Massive police reinforcements arriving from Kolarceva (the units guarding Parliament?).
22:04 – Cops being brutal to hooligans they catch but where has the mob gone? I can hear them, sounds like they are on Despota Stefana (29th November). This is dangerous becuase the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is nearby on Skadarlija. Flashbangs on or near George Washington.
22:18 – Fighting, sirens. Chaos on Republic Square (Trg Republika). News reports fighting on Knez Mihailova street too (the main pedestrian street in Belgrade). Random vandalism and looting on the north eastern side of the square. Police reinforcements seem to be flooding in now. You can tell immediately the difference between the full time (and properly trained) riot police – the Gendarmes – and the ordinary cops-in-armour. The Gendarmes are well organised, orderly and hold a line. They also have blue helmets (not white), smaller blank shields and distinctive red shoulder patches. Here is a Genderme unit guarding Knez Mihailova. The other police units were a rabble. They were very nearly overcome on Makedonska. The fire-bomb panicked them. Tatjana Aleksic (a call in reporter on B92) sounds like she was crying as she described some of the violence (tear gas?)
22:30 – It looks like the expert riot police have taken charge with the rest holding and guarding. There are intermittent bangs from huge fire-crackers or police flashbangs. I think the mob may have headed north west towards Student’s Park (Studenski Trg) and Dorcol. Targets there are the Mosque and possible (although unlikely) the Jewish Center on Kralja Petra, but this afternoon I saw hundreds of riot police posted there. I am hoping they have just dispersed, but somehow I am doubtful even though the rioters were clearly opportunists and not organised at all.
22:31 – I am off out to see what’s up.
23:22 – OK I am back, and I have some great photos and detailed report (to follow).
23:31 – Makedonska and the area around Trg Republika are covered in rubble, but there was no looting there as I previously thought. Not even a broken window. Trg Republika is now quite, guarded by exhausted looking riot cops and the smell of teargas is still strong. There are TV crews and photographers roaming around. A spotted a surprising number of foreigners, I met on group who were loudly asking directions right next to a group of serious hooligans who simply ignored them. There is trouble elsewhere, becuase every now and again the police Intervention Squad (the guys in Range Rovers) would roar through in convoy. There is nothing going on at Makedonska, Trg Republika (Republic Square), Kolarceva and as far as I could see or hear up Terazija. In short, the city centre seems to be safe again. There are lost of ambulances, I saw them loading up at least one guy with a serious head injury. There were a group of police officers desperately trying to find out what had happened to one of their colleagues, six or seven of them on phones and radios trying to get word. I felt very sorry for them, they looked very worried.
23:52 – Cops officially declare situation is under control. About 25 cops and a similar number of protesters injured.
UPDATE: Here are my picture and Videos!
Here are the Intervention squad zooming off in search of troublemakers elsewhere…