International Roma Day coincided with racist clashes in Belgrade over the relocation of Roma from a shanty town in central Belgrade to state-sponsored container camp in a suburb.
Residents of suburban Resnik protested over the relocation of Roma to their community, where they would live in containers provided by the government. Local authorities said that if the government doesn't drop the plans, they would organise a blockade of a nearby railway.
Serbian police said 12 officers and two protestors were hurt in the clashes in Resnik on 8 April. About 20 protestors were arrested by police who were guarding the construction site.
Belgrade Mayor Dragan Đilas called the protest "racist". "The same law applies for all and there will be no negotiations between Belgrade and the citizens of Resnik who refuse the relocation of Roma in their community," he was quoted as saying.
As protests occurred in Resnik, celebrations were held to mark International Roma Day, organised by the Serbian Parliament in Belgrade.
Deputy Prime Minister Božidar Đelić, who is also coordinator of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, said the government had decided to remove shanty towns from the capital and provide residents with new accommodation.
Đelić said Serbia allocated €15 million from European Union accession funds for 2012 and 2013, which will be used to help the country's Roma population. He added that the city of Belgrade has asked for €67 million from the European Investment Bank to build 200 apartments for Roma.
Nevena Petrušić, Serbian commissioner for Equality, said that the Romani population in Serbia was a constant target of racist attacks and hate speech.
"In our country, there are schools that practice racial segregation. Roma children find themselves in separate school buildings. In many cities, one can see swastikas and heinous graffiti," she said in a written statement, quoted by Courrier des Balkans.
Legally invisible people
Milan Marković, minister of Human and Minority Rights, said there were between 2,400 and 6,000 "legally invisible" people in Serbia.
Marković was referring to the people without identity papers, the vast majority of whom are Roma. He underlined the government had enacted a new legal framework for easier acquisition of documents, allowing Roma who have no address to be issued identity papers.
According to the 2002 census, there are 108,000 Roma in Serbia. Unofficially however, their number is estimated at 450,000 in a country of more than 7.3 million.