Thousands protest against Serbian authorities

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Serbian protesters called for the resignation of various police, government and city officials over the demolitions, which cleared part of the way for the ambitious Belgrade Waterfront redevelopment.

SERBIA - Thousands protested in the Serbian capital on Wednesday, accusing the authorities of corruption and violence linked to plans to redevelop a popular area of Belgrade.

The rally was organised by the "Ne Davimo Beograd" (Don&39;t Drown Belgrade) movement, which opposes a $3-billion (R47 billion,2.7-billion euro) deal with an Abu Dhabi-based developer to transform part of Belgrade into an upscale housing and shopping complex.

Demonstrators took aim in particular at an incident on April 24 in the arts and nightlife district of Savamala, where several buildings were demolished in the night by mysterious masked men.

Wearing balaclavas and driving vehicles without number plates, the men allegedly tied up onlookers and took their mobile phones while bulldozers razed the buildings, according to local media reports.

Protesters called for the resignation of various police, government and city officials over the demolitions, which cleared part of the way for the ambitious Belgrade Waterfront redevelopment.

"It is unacceptable that a month after the incident we don&39;t know who is responsible for violence against citizens. Someone should be held accountable," said local journalist Vesna Milisavljevic, 45, at the rally.

Police said as the rally began that 5,000 people were present, but an AFP reporter at the scene said numbers significantly swelled.

Demonstrators shouted "Vucic thief!" referring to Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, "This is our town!" and "Resignations!"

Vucic, who unveiled the waterfront project in 2014, has branded the masked men "idiots" for their behaviour, but said the buildings had been scheduled for demolition.

They should have been razed during the day, Vucic told reporters earlier this month, adding that he would have attended the demolition "with pleasure".

The agreement signed with developer Eagle Hills aims to turn parts of Savamala and surrounding areas into nearly two million square metres  of malls, offices and apartment blocks.

The centrepiece of the project is a 200-metre tall Dubai-style tower.

Backers of the project say it will regenerate a rundown area, while critics allege a lack of transparency and public consultation, fearing the development will be of little benefit to most Serbian citizens.

Former president Boris Tadic, leader of the opposition Social Democratic party, on Wednesday called for an urgent probe into the death of Slobodan Tanaskovic, reportedly a witness to the demolitions.

The 58-year-old died in hospital earlier this week and the cause of death has not yet been disclosed, Beta news agency reported.