Serb leader blames mafia for soccer and anti-gay riots


SERBIA’S PRESIDENT Boris Tadic says mafia groups were behind far-right riots at a gay pride march in Belgrade and at an international football match in Italy which sullied the country’s reputation as it seeks to improve fractious relations with the European Union.

“Events in Belgrade and Genoa are a response of organised crime and violent groups to the establishment of the state of law ,” Mr Tadic said.

“Not for a moment should we forget that organised crime uses extremist fan groups to destabilise the state, which sends mafia bosses into prison. In this fight, Serbia will prevail.”

Sixteen people were injured when Serb fans attacked police and tried to confront Italian supporters at the match last Tuesday, forcing the game’s abandonment.

The hooligans also burned Albanian flags in protest at the independence of Kosovo, a mostly ethnic-Albanian former Serb province. Serb police arrested 35 people on their return from Italy.

The violence came just two days after thousands of extreme nationalists fought running battles with police in Belgrade during a rare gay pride march, which was promoted by Mr Tadic’s government as a sign that Serbia will defend values espoused by the EU.

The rioters – who targeted the ruling party’s headquarters, the state television building and liberal media outlets – had verbal support from nationalist politicians, who blamed the unrest on the government for allowing the parade.

The two incidents marred concerted attempts by Mr Tadic and his allies to dissociate Serbia from its ultranationalist past – as personified by former president Slobodan Milosevic – and to accelerate its bid for EU membership by entering talks with Kosovo.

Far-right parties have lost political influence in recent years, but many Serbs still resent the Nato bombing of their country during the Kosovo war in 1999 and feel they have been demonised by the EU and US since Milosevic ruled the country during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

They resent Mr Tadic’s efforts to improve relations with the West and many would prefer to strengthen ties with traditional ally Russia. They also oppose efforts to catch former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, a condition of EU accession.

Officials say Serb and Balkan mafia groups are determined to prevent Serbia instituting the reforms and the crackdown on crime and corruption that are vital to its bid for EU membership.