Serb road builders protest, demand company bailout

BELGRADE, June 22 (Reuters) – Hundreds of construction workers blocked main roads across Serbia on Wednesday demanding the government bail out a major building group, which is mired in a fraud scandal and millions of euros of debt.

Protesters, who brought parts of the capital Belgrade to a standstill, said the government needed to save Nibens Grupa to safeguard 5,000 jobs and upgrades to Serbia’s motorway network.

“We need (state) money to resume business operations, for wages and supplies,” said Sonja Vuksanovic, the head of the Independent Union of Road Builders.

“Protesters want the government to urgently resolve the fate of Nibens Grupa which owes about 110 million euros ($158 million) to banks and about the same amount to suppliers,” Vuksanovic added.

Nibens Grupa suspended all its operations last month, after Serbian police arrested its owner Milo Djuraskovic and seven other executives, during investigations into a 32 million euro fraud.

Financial authorities blocked the bank accounts of five road construction companies that are part of the Nibens Grupa conglomerate.

Government and commercial banks have also started legal bids to force the company to repay debts.

“We are talking about the fate of 5,000 workers. We want to continue to work as soon as possible so we can pay debts,” Vuksanovic said. “We need investments in highways urgently,” she said.

Nibens Grupa was a major player in the development of the network of motorways linking Serbia with Hungary to the north and Macedonia to the south.

Serbia has plans to build more motorways to strengthen road links with countries in the European Union, a bloc it hopes to join.

The country needs to improve its infrastructure if it wants to secure its target of 3 percent growth in 2011 and attract more investors.

Angry road builders also blocked roads around the cities of Kragujevac, Nis and Novi Sad. (Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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