Anger boiled over at a massive commemoration of the slaughter of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica 20 years ago as people pelted Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic with stones, water bottles and other objects.
An aide said the prime minister was hit in the face with a rock and his glasses were broken.
Suzana Vasiljevic told the Associated Press that she was behind Mr Vucic when “masses broke the fences and turned against us”.
Tens of thousands came to mark the 20th anniversary of Europe’s worst massacre since the Holocaust – the slaughter of 8,000 Muslims from the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica – with foreign dignitaries urging the international community not to allow such atrocities to happen again and to call the crime “genocide”.
Mr Vucic, once an ultra-nationalist, came to represent his country at the commemoration in an apparent gesture of reconciliation. But a few people carried banners with his own wartime quote: “For every killed Serb, we will kill 100 Bosniaks.”
Mr Vucic and his guards were forced to run through a crowd that rushed them, with guards trying to protect the prime minister with bags, umbrellas and their raised arms. He returned to Serbia soon afterwards.
Serbia’s foreign minister, Ivica Dacic, said the incident was an attack on Serbia.
“By deciding to bow to the victims, Serbia’s prime minister behaved like a statesman,” Mr Dacic said in a statement. “This is another negative consequence of politicising this subject that has brought new divisions and hatreds instead of reconciliation.”
The Muslim Bosniak mayor of Srebrenica, Camil Durakovic, said he was “deeply disappointed and I truly apologise to Prime Minister Vucic for what he experienced.”
Council of Europe secretary-general Thorbjorn Jagland condemned the attack.
The ceremony in Potocari, the Srebrenica suburb where the memorial centre is located, “should have been a place for reflection, reconciliation, not violence”, Mr Jagland said.
This was not the first time that top Serbian officials visited Srebrenica for commemorations. The former pro-democratic president, Boris Tadic, was there on the 10th anniversary of the massacre, and there were no major incidents.
Serbia and Bosnian Serbs deny the killings were genocide, and claim that the death toll has been exaggerated.
Dozens of foreign dignitaries – including former US president Bill Clinton, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Britain’s Princess Royal and Jordan’s Queen Noor – attended the ceremony mourning the 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed in the eastern Bosnian town by Bosnian Serb troops. The crime was later defined as genocide by two international courts.
“I grieve that it took us so long to unify … to stop this violence,” said Mr Clinton, who was in office at the time of the massacre and whose administration led the Nato air strikes against Serb positions. This ended the Bosnian war and the US brokered a peace agreement.
Mr Clinton said before the attack: “I want to thank the Prime Minister of Serbia for having the courage to come here today and I think it is important that we acknowledge that.”
During the 1992-95 war, the United Nations declared Srebrenica a safe haven for civilians. But on July 11 1995, Serb troops overran the Muslim enclave. Some 15,000 men tried to flee through the woods toward government-held territory while others joined the town’s women and children in seeking refuge at the base of the Dutch UN troops.
The outnumbered Dutch troops could only watch as Serb soldiers rounded up about 2,000 men for killing and later hunted down and killed another 6,000 men in the woods.
The United Nations admitted its failure to protect the town’s people and today, Netherlands Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said “the Dutch government shares responsibility” and that the UN must strengthen United Nations missions in the future.
“Nobody can undo what happened here but we mourn with you,” he added.
The 1992-95 war in Bosnia, pitting Christian Orthodox Serbs against Bosnian Muslims and Croatian Catholics, left more than 100,000 people dead and millions homeless. The Serbs, who wanted to remain in the Serb-led Yugoslavia, fought against the secession of Bosnia and Croatia from the former federation.
So far, remains of some 7,000 victims have been excavated from 93 graves or collected from 314 surface locations and identified through DNA technology.