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Niš on it’s feet: „They started mowing us down on sidewalks"

After another serious traffic accident in which two people lost their lives, citizens of Niš went out to the streets – and they announced new protest.

Boy aged 12, and a 48-year-old man died on Monday when a car ran into them, while they were walking on Medijana Boulevard .

Their neighbors gathered the next day, first in city centre, and then on the site of the accident, where they blocked the traffic, demanding a reaction from the authorities.

“We gathered out of pure revolt. That boy and that man were walking on the sidewalk, they weren’t on the street” said Milan Miljković from Niš for BBC Serbia.

“They started mowing us down on the sidewalks, on the crosswalks” he adds.

On Monday, January 11th the chief of the Traffic Police in Niš was relieved of his duties, it is stated in the announcement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

“A decision was made to increase traffic control in the city, as well as presence of the police in the streets, with the help from officers from other cities” it is stated in the announcement after the meeting between minister Aleksandar Vulin and police chiefs in Niš.

This is just one of many serious traffic accident that has happened in recent years in which pedestrians lost their lives, said citizens of Niš, while adding that some boulevards, as soon as the sun sets, turn into racetracks.

“I live on one of the boulevards and I can say that the kids race all night long, so much that it’s impossible to sleep” says for the BBC Gordana Bjeletić, editor for Niš news portal “Južne vesti”.

What happened?

While he was speeding on Medijana boulevard on Monday around 21h, a 19 year old from Belgrade lost control over his “Audi”, flew off the road and onto the sidewalk and ran over two pedestrians.

Boy, aged 12 – who was going home from the shopping mall, were he went to buy a charger for his phone – died on the spot, while the 48-year-old man was taken to Clinical Centre in Niš, where he succumbed to injuries.

Niš Police department soon announced that N.S. was arrested on suspicion that he had committed criminal offense of endangering public traffic.

They stated that the driver was not under the influence of alcohol, and that with him in the car were two under aged persons and a 51-year-old man D.O. from Niš.

During his hearing, the driver remained silent, and he remains in custody for 30 days, report Južne vesti.

Why are the people protesting?

Marko Dimitrijević is 37 years old and on Tuesday night he was one of the people who blocked the traffic on Medijana Boulevard.

“This is my neighborhood, where I grew up, and where I spend time every day with my family, and where we take walks regularly” said Dimitrijević for BBC Serbia.

On the site of the accident, the citizens lit candles and left flowers.

Dimitrijević says that the accident scared the whole neighborhood

“I have a four year old daughter and I have a lot of thing go through my head whenever we go there” he stated.

People from other parts of Niš were also on the protest, for which Dimitrijević said “felt the need to show unity and support”

”They came because they want the city to be safe for walking, not to have the need to always turn around and look out for some daddy’s boys or some arrogant driver to endanger them” he states.

Miljković called for the afternoon protest that happened during the day in city’s centre.

“Out of anger I went out and made a post on Facebook. I reacted as a father of children who take walks on that same spot” he states.

“People who came in the evening probably came with the same goal – to try and alarm the people in this city and to show that this went to extremes”.

Citizens also stated that they want to appeal to the city and the country.

”We are tired of the state turning a blind eye for some” said Dimitrijević, stating that the “Audi” was reported to the authorities before the accident.

“If an individual knows that he won’t be punished, that he will be saved by a powerful cousin or his daddy, things like this will continue to happen – these things need to be sanctioned” he states.

“Prison sentences are laughable, lawyers of the perpetrators lower their sentences and that goes on and on… This is how it ends” adds Miljković.

What do the authorities say?

On Monday, January 11th, chief of traffic police in Niš was relieved of his duties, it is stated in the announcement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

“A decision was made to increase traffic control in the city, as well as presence of the police in the streets, with the help from officers from other cities” it is stated in the announcement after the meeting between minister Aleksandar Vulin and police chiefs in Niš.

Police department of Niš denies claims that the police received reports that the same “Audi” was driven dangerously in days prior to the accident, reports Nova.

Claims that the city is unsafe are also false, said the police.

Number of traffic accidents in 2020 was 10 percent lower in comparison to 2019, and the number of people injured was 20 percent lower, they stated.  

The whole case in the meantime got a political note as well.

“We know who the family of the suspect is, what they are doing and who are they close to in political sense, but we will wait and see how far are the police and minister Vulin as the political authority willing to go to hide the identity of the driver” said Marinika Tepić, vice president of the oppositional Party of freedom and justice.

Police denied the claims that they are hiding the identity of the suspect.

Boulevards as racetracks

Citizens of Niš point out the way people drive on the Niš’ boulevards as a big problem, as they often, especially during the night, easily turn into racetracks.

“Knjaževačka street, Nemanjića boulevard, 12.february boulevard, Medijana boulevard are only some of them” said Željko Marković from Niš for BBC.

“These are wide roads with several lanes, in which there are not too many vehicles in the evening, which makes them convenient for exhibitions”.

He says that it’s always the same.

“A hothead behind the wheel wants to rush through the city in a powerful machine, for their own amusement”.

“When an exhibitionist overestimates their driving skill, then a tragedy like the one that happened on January 4th happens, in which innocent people lose their lives” says Marković.

Niš citizen Petra Antić said for BBC that in the last few years the number of races and rushes through Niš boulevards increased.

“I live on one of the larger boulevards and during the night you can often hear sound of cars accelerating, as well as the sound of tires squealing and braking” she said.

“I’m always afraid that in the next moment I’ll hear the sound of a car hitting into something” she adds.

One of the hobbies is drifting – a specific style of driving during which the back end of the car is slipping while maintaining control – on roundabouts.

Miljković lives abroad, so he only recently found out about all of this.

“Yesterday I heard about all of these stories – the epilogue is the thing that happened a couple of days ago. Arrogant drivers, daddy’s boys, they have cars that are very expensive, very fast and very strong” says Miljković.

“This city has become a playground for them”.

Similar cases

The accident that happened on January 4th is not the first case of its kind in the city, said the citizens.

“A lot of pedestrians lately lost their lives in Niš, and they weren’t trying to run across the road” says Gordana Bjeletić.

One 25-year-old-girl died in hospital on December 1st  , ten days after an traffic accident – her car was hit by a car which was driven by a 20-year-old who was later found to have been driving under the influence of alcohol.

A criminal report was filed against him for committing a criminal offense of endangering public traffic

However, many people on January 4th remember a serious traffic accident that happened in 2018, when two sisters and one cyclist lost their lives.

The driver also lost control over his vehicle due to high speed and alcohol.

“He was going home from a tavern with 2 per miles of alcohol in his blood, going over the speed limit for more than 35 km/h” remembers Željko Marković.

“Two girls, sisters, were waiting for the bus at the bus stop, and I knew one of them personally.

The driver got 11 years in prison, and we shall see how will it go for the newest perpetrator” he adds.

One of the sisters was a friend of Petra Antić.

“It’s sad that after all these accidents, people in Niš gather, they protest, but no concrete measures are taken to put a stop to this, and the public slowly forgets about them” she said.

Miljković also rememberd that case.

“It’s almost scary talking about it. Our children lose their lives, and I don’t know what to say”, he said.

What’s next?

Miljković announced a new protest for Saturday, at 15:00h.

“We’ll try and take a walk through the city, to try and reach as many people as possible. This is a parents’ protest, we’ll take our children with us to try and point out what’s happening”, he said.

Dimitrijević hopes that the authorities react, but he states “that their actions, as well as everything else in this country, only starts after something big happens”.

”This is not the first, nor the last tragedy” he states.

Are the citizens scared?

”I’ve started to pay much more attention when I’m crossing the street – even on a crosswalk I wait for the vehicles to clear out, because I do not rely on somebody stopping to let me cross” said Petra.

“However, I worry much more for my family members, especially when someone is taking a car late at night”.

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