Protesters storm public broadcaster HQ in Serbia, face off with riot police

16 Mar, 2019

Scuffles broke out between opposition and riot police after protesters forced their way into the offices of a public broadcaster in Belgrade, demanding they be put on the air. Police resorted to force to evict the crowd.

Activists protesting against the government of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic stormed the headquarters of the country’s public broadcaster, RTS, on Saturday evening. Tensions were running high early in the day when huge crowds of opposition activists swarmed the streets to march to the RTS offices to call for more press freedom.

The protesters initially planned to stage a two-hour sit-in in front of the building. However, the situation soon spiraled out of control. While they were chanting slogans outside, a group of protesters led by the leader of the right-wing Dveri party, Bosko Obradovic, and his ally, prominent opposition politician Dragan Djilas, stormed the officers, occupying several floors.

As the opposition attempted to take over the broadcaster, riot police blocked the entrances, preventing more people from sneaking onto the premises, while calling on the activists hunkered down inside to come out voluntarily.

Protesters also plastered the walls and doors of the offices with a tape reading “It has begun,” one of the slogans of the ‘1 od 5 miliona’ (one of five million) protests that have been gripping Serbia since November last year, following an attack on opposition politician Borko Stefanovic and several other attacks on outspoken government critics.

The protesters inside, however, were adamant about not going anywhere until they were given airtime.

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Speaking to the media before the events took a violent turn, Obradovic insisted he would not resist when police come to remove them.

“We won’t resist. We are not here for any kind of violence,” Obradovic said, as reported by the Balkan Insight.

But when riot police moved in, Obradovic called on fellow protesters to defy police orders and close their ranks.

Videos have surfaced on social media showing police rounding up protesters and dragging them from the building as they put up fierce resistance.

Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin called the protesters who occupied the RTS offices “fascists,” demanding they receive harsh punishment for their actions.

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The ‘One of five million’ movement decries the Serbian government’s human rights record, demands more respect for civil liberties, including freedom of the press. Its name was inspired by Vucic’s remark that he won’t cater to the protesters even if “five million show up on the streets,” which is two million less than the total population of Serbia.

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