SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Hercegovina: An angry crowd hurling stones and plastic bottles forced Serbia’s premier to flee a ceremony Saturday marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslims in Bosnia.
Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic had just laid a flower at a monument for the Bosnian Muslim men and boys killed in Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II when the crowd started chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God Is Great) and throwing stones.
Vucic ran for cover, shielded with umbrellas by his bodyguards, who were hit by the hail of stones as some in the crowd shouted insults at the Serbian leader.
Vucic, whose country backed Bosnian Serbs during and after the 1990s inter-ethnic war in Bosnia, was among numerous dignitaries, including former US president Bill Clinton, and tens of thousands of people attending the commemoration in the eastern Bosnian town.
The prayers of an imam finally calmed the irate people in the crowd of mourners as their attention turned to the burial of newly identified massacre victims.
Bosnia’s presidency strongly condemned the stone-throwing incident, saying Vucic had come to the town in the “spirit of reconciliation and intending to pay respect to the victims.” It apologized to “all foreign delegations” over the incident.
Srebrenica Mayor Camil Durakovic added that the attack was “the work of sick minds who abused this solemn event.”
Serbia, for its part, described the incident as an “assassination attempt.”
“It is an attack not only against Vucic but against all of Serbia and its policy of peace and regional cooperation,” Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said in a statement.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini praised Vucic’s “historical decision” to attend Saturday’s ceremony and said the attack “went against the spirit of this day of remembrance,” while French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also voiced condemnation.
Vucic returned to Belgrade where he told reporters that a stone that hit him in the mouth did not hurt him and only his glasses were broken in the attack.
“I regret that some did not recognize our sincere intention to build a sincere friendship between Serbs and Bosniaks (Muslims),” he said.
“My hand remains outstretched (to Bosnian Muslims) and I will continue with my policy of reconciliation” between the two Balkan nations.
Vucic had earlier condemned the “monstrous crime” in Srebrenica, where some 8,000 Muslim males were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces who had captured Srebrenica in July 1995, near the end of Bosnia’s war.