Defendants to testify in embassy fire trial

23/04/2013

Five years after one person died in the rampage, 12 people are on trial in Belgrade.

By Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 23/04/13

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Serbian nationalists opposed to Kosovo's independence stormed the United States embassy in Belgrade on February 21th 2008 after a massive rally in the Serbian capital. [AFP]

The defendants on trial for setting the US Embassy in Belgrade on fire will take the stand on June 14th.

The trial at the High Court in Belgrade commenced on April 16th, and the 12 defendants were charged with causing general danger. The indictment alleges that on February 21st 2008, the US embassy was pelted with stones, flares and other objects. The embassies of Croatia, Germany and Turkey were also attacked.

Several hundred protesters attacked the US embassy in response to the West's support for Kosovo's declaration of independence. Protesters threw rocks, torches and other objects at the embassy, causing a fire to break out in the building.

After raging for about 30 minutes, the fire was contained. Inside the building, firefighters discovered the body of Zoran Vujovic, a 21-year-old student from Novi Sad who had travelled to Belgrade to join the protests.

The accused -- Dejan Vuckovic, Djordje Tomin, Nikola Kosanovic, Dusan Sedlar, Aleksandar Erceg, Filip Backovic, Dragan Marinkov, Mladen Nebrigic, Marko Novitovic, Drazenko Nikolic, Milan Dubocanin and Milan Tomas -- have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

They initially told police that they took part in throwing flares at the embassy, but they now say these police records are incorrect and that their statements were misinterpreted.

"I just threw a rock at the box security at the embassy, I did not see any fireworks or throwing," Marinkov said last week.

The defendants' lawyers have asked that prosecutors not be allowed to include images from the embassy security cameras that show the defendents. In 2008, it was against the Serbia criminal code to film someone without their knowledge, unless it was by order of an investigative judge.

"Because of that, this evidence against our clients cannot be used. The prosecution has no other evidence, and I think that these guys have to be released," defence lawyer Veljko Delibasic told SETimes.

"Judges should not interpret the law [according to lawyers demands], but [according to] fairness and justice, as well as the message their verdict will send about Serbia as a state," Milan Antonijevic, the director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, told SETimes.

Higher Court in Belgrade presiding Judge Vladimir Duruz scheduled the next hearing for June 14th, when witnesses will take the stand.

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Many are eager for a verdict.

"It should not go unpunished, because Serbia should not be a state in which hooligans go to the city and destroy everything in sight," Slavisa Vlastović, a student in Belgrade, told SETimes.

"It is a shame that the state [waited] five years ... to bring the perpetrators to justice," Veselin Kojic, a merchant in Belgrade, told SETimes.

What sentence should those found guilty of setting the fire receive from the court? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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