Calls for calm as Serbs rally

Hundreds of thousands of protesters are expected to take part in a “Kosovo is Serbia” rally in Belgrade on Thursday. President Boris Tadić has called for demonstrations to be peaceful.

Violence erupted at a demonstration in Belgrade on Sunday when 30 police and 30 protestors were injured. Some demonstrators taking part in protests on Tuesday in all major cities in Serbia were reported to have called for the murder of ethnic Albanians. The demonstrations, which followed the declaration of independence by Kosovo, were attended by hundreds of people in each city.

In Kragujevac, a fast food restaurant run by members of the Bosnian-speaking ethnic Gorani minority from Kosovo was vandalized. In Bor, windows of a confectionery shop also run by a Gorani were smashed. Car windows were also smashed. In an interview with independent media B92, Minister for Infrastructure Velimir Ilić stated that breaking windows was an act of democracy.

In the Serbian Parliament on Tuesday, Ivica Dačić, a member of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), advocated the banning of all political parties and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that recognized Kosovo as independent. He specifically singled out Nataša Kandić, a human rights activist and director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, who attended the ceremony declaring independence at Kosovo’s Parliamentary Assembly on 17 February 2008.

According to media reports, the SPS are filing a criminal complaint against Nataša Kandić for inciting others to compromise the territorial integrity of Serbia.

Borko Ilić, vice president of the ruling Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), interviewed in the daily Kurir, called Nataša Kandić a traitor. Another article in the daily Večernje novosti was headlined “Nataša [Kandić], the woman who does not exist”, implying that as a non-person, her elimination would be without consequences. Other human rights activists also have concerns for their security.

Amnesty International has called on the Serbian authorities and specifically Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica and President Boris Tadić to urgently condemn threats against human rights activists and attacks on ethnic minorities in the country.

“Amnesty International reminds the authorities of their commitment to the UN Security Council ‘to refrain from actions that might jeopardize the security situation in Kosovo and elsewhere, and not use violence, threats of intimidation’” warned Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“The Serbian authorities must strongly condemn any attempts to victimize members of Serbian society. They should ensure that any threats against human rights activists and attacks on minorities are promptly and thoroughly investigated and those responsible are brought to justice.”

Kosovo declared unilateral independence from Serbia on Sunday, 17 February 2008. Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999.