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Belgrade demolitions up fears of waterfront plans

Then, two months ago, it was demolished without warning overnight.

His office was one of several buildings abruptly knocked down on April 24 by mysterious masked men, making way for a massive riverside development that aims to transform the Balkan city.

Authorities say the US$3 billion (2.7-billion-euro) project, led by Abu Dhabi-based developer Eagle Hills, will generate thousands of jobs and much-needed investment, as well as revamping rundown parts of the banks of the River Danube for public use.

The grand plans include the Western Balkans’ biggest shopping mall, a 200-meter-tall Dubai-style tower, high-end hotels, office blocks and luxury apartments.

But to opponents in the protest movement “Ne Davimo Beograd” (Don’t Drown Belgrade), the shady April demolitions epitomize all that is wrong with the scheme.

“For the last few years we have been trying to warn the public that what’s happening with the project is really done … in a non-democratic way and a corruptive, violent way,” said Ljubica Slavkovic, a leading protester and architect.

Witnesses quoted by local media said balaclava-wearing men tied up onlookers and took their mobile phones as bulldozers demolished the buildings, while police refused calls for help.

Markovic said he was never contacted about his office being knocked down, then “all of a sudden we found rubble,” he told AFP.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic initially branded the masked men “idiots” for their behavior, but said the buildings had been scheduled for demolition.

Six weeks later, under growing pressure, he said “top city authorities” were responsible and would be held accountable, but he stopped short of giving any names.

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