If the prosecution of Croatian war veterans does not stop, Homeland War associations will stage another protest in one month's time, former special police commander Zeljko Sacic said at the end of a veterans' protest rally in Zagreb's main square on Saturday.
During his speech, a group of about 100 protesters, who organised on Facebook, clashed with the police near the square. The organisers of the veterans' rally called on the protesters not to clash with the police and the police not to "beat up Croatian children."
Like a dozen speakers at the rally, which drew about 15,000 protesters, Sacic criticised the politicians in power, calling them "Judas' children who betrayed the dreams of Croatian veterans."
Sacic said veterans were being made to choose between the European Union and Tihomir Purda, a Croatian war veteran in custody in Bosnia awaiting a State Court ruling on Serbia's extradition plea over war crimes charges, stressing the veterans would always choose Purda.
The rally in Trg Bana Jelacica square began shortly after 1 pm with the national anthem an a minute of silence for the Croatian soldiers killed in the 1991-95 war. The protesters demanded the release of Purda and another 300 detained veterans, booing at every mention of Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and President Ivo Josipovic, and calling those in power traitors, Communists, Josip Broz Tito followers and enemies of Croatia.
The protesters said the representatives of 17 Homeland War associations who held a working meeting at the Police Academy today had also betrayed veterans' interests.
Vjekoslav Magas, a representative of the rally's organiser, the Croatian War Veterans 1990-1996 Association, said that apart from veterans, the state must also take better care of workers and farmers, "who have also been robbed and deprived of their rights." He said the veterans had not fought for such a Croatia and that politicians should "tremble because of the betrayal" as well as because of their omissions and incompetence.
"We didn't fight to be persecuted like beasts, so that workers and farmers can't live decently, while those who didn't want Croatia are sitting in parliament," said Mario Slavicek, spokesman for the Croatian War Veterans 1990-1996 Association.
Petar Janjic, a veteran accused alongside Purda, criticised Kosor's statement that she had ensured veterans' pensions, saying he had earned his pension "by sitting in a Chetnik camp for nine months."
The protesters were shouting "betrayal" and "Jaca, go away," a reference to Kosor.
Veteran Stjepan Mackovic recalled how he had been tortured in a detention camp, saying, "Give us an hour with those in power to do to them what they did to us in the camps. They would immediately return all the money they stole."
Representatives of several farmers' associations also spoke at the rally, including Tomislav Pokrovec, who said people could no longer live off their work in Croatia and that instead of Switzerland, Croatia had become Bangladesh.
The organisers of the rally in a statement afterwards distanced themselves from the rioters who clashed with the police.
"If you love this country and respect Croatian veterans, you won't cause riots. We appeal on your conscience," Slavicek said in a statement.