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Police Break Up Protests in Montenegro With Tear Gas After Weeks of Demonstrations

Video of the unrest shows a wall of police officers clad in riot gear facing off against protesters in the capital on Saturday, eventually firing tear gas and stun grenades as demonstrators attempted to enter the parliament building.

by Reuters and VICE News
Oct 25 2015, 5:48pm

Photo par Boris Pejovic/EPA

Protesters in Montenegro were hit with tear gas and stun grenades again this weekend after clashing with police for a second weekend in a row while they attempted to enter the parliament building in the capital of Podgorica, with the latest escalation in tensions coming amid weeks of round the clock demonstrations against the country's prime minister.

Video of the unrest shows a wall of police officers clad in riot gear facing off against protesters on Saturday, followed by footage of blasts and smoke from the rapidly fired tear gas and stun grenades. Around 5,000 protesters marched the parliament demanding the resignation of veteran Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and snap elections.

The rally began peacefully but turned violent after demonstrators attempted to break through a police cordon at the parliament building, hurling stones, flares, and an incendiary device, according to Reuters.

The latest police tactics may have finally broken up the encampment just days before the movement would have hit the one-month mark. The area around the parliament building where the rally took place appears to be empty, according to a report by Balkan Insight.

Protesters are accusing the government of widespread corruption, undemocratic practices, and election fraud. They've been holding 24-hour demonstrations in Podgorica since September 27, demanding the creation of an interim government to organize what they're hoping to be Montenegro's "first ever free and fair elections."

Before being dispersed by tear gas, protesters yelled slogans like "Milo thief!" — referring to Djukanovic — and were equipped with Montenegrin and Serbian flags. Interior Minister Rasko Konjevic told a news conference that 15 police officers were injured, one seriously, and that 24 civilians sought medical treatment.

Before the protest, a group of opposition supporters pelted the Albanian embassy in Podgorica with stones, damaging its exterior. Both the Montenegrin government and the Albanian embassy condemned the incident.

Andrija Mandic, a leader of the Democratic Front opposition alliance that staged the protest, and his ally Slaven Radunovic were taken for questioning over their roles in the incident, the minister said.

"This was an evident attack on police and state property. I am leaving to the prosecutor to evaluate the offense," Mandic said. Under Montenegrin law, Mandic enjoys immunity from arrest unless the offence is punishable by a prison term of over five years.

The protests have been organized by the Democratic Front, a coalition of opposition leaders, as well as non-government organizations and student bodies. The first major clash between police and protesters came last week on October 18, when authorities launched tear gas into the crowds.

The opposition movement combines pro-Western parties and pro-Serb elements who cherish close ties between Montenegro and Belgrade. The latter also oppose Montenegrin recognition of Kosovo, a majority ethnic-Albanian country which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

According to the opposition, the former Yugoslav republic of 680,000 people is run as a fiefdom of Djukanovic, who has been in power for two decades, and the political elite surrounding him. The government rejects the charge and says protests were staged to prevent Montenegro from joining NATO.

Montenegro is a candidate to join the European Union and is expecting an invitation to join NATO. It is scheduled to hold a parliamentary election next year. Western governments and rights groups remain concerned over the level of organised crime and corruption, which flourished during the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.