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Serbian police, residents clash over Roma settlement on World Roma Day

(Xinhua)

08:50, April 09, 2012

BELGRADE, April 8 (Xinhua) -- Fourteen people were injured when residents of the Belgrade suburb of Resnik clashed with police on Sunday over the placement of temporary housing for a relocated Roma (Gypsy) community, reported the Serbian news agency Tanjug.

A dozen police officers, who were targeted with bricks and stones by disgruntled residents, were treated for minor injuries. Two demonstrators were hospitalized with head injuries. Four people were taken into custody.

Residents established road blocks to prevent the establishment of 80 planned residential containers near their community. Police intervened to clear the roads. As a consequence of the disruptions and scuffle, only eight of the residential containers have been set up to accommodate the Roma who have been displaced from unsightly slums of New Belgrade.

Belgrade Mayor Dragan Djilas called the incident "racially motivated" and condemned the protest. He said this was the first incident since the city embarked on a program of better integration of Roma into Serbian society.

"Many Roma families in the past four years have received shelter, personal identification, social care and, most importantly, regular education for the majority of their children," Djilas said, adding the new Roma settlements do not represent a threat to neighboring communities.

The violent demonstration ironically coincided with World Roma Day, as senior Serbian officials, such as National Coordinator of the Decade of Roma Bozidar Djelic, were citing various successes in meeting the challenges of the roughly 120,000 Roma in Serbia.

Djelic said the city of Belgrade was planning an additional 200 units of social housing, primarily for Roma. He also stated that school enrollment for Roma children had exceeded 90 percent and that the mortality rate of Roma babies had been halved.

"Is this sufficient and enough?" asked Djelic rhetorically. "Roma continue to live 10 to 15 years shorter than the majority of the population. We are faced with a long battle."

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