Kushner’s Affinity Gets Bombed Belgrade Site But Serbs Protest

(Bloomberg) -- Serbia’s real estate deal with a company linked to Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has triggered outrage among local groups opposed to US investors redeveloping a prime location in the capital that was bombed by NATO a quarter century ago.

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The authorities signed a 99-year lease with Affinity Global Development, represented by Kushner’s partner Asher Abehsera on Wednesday, allowing the firm to proceed with plans to turn three blocks in downtown Belgrade into a luxury hotel with commercial space and more than 1,500 residences.

The site, across the street from the Serbian government headquarters, still features charred remains of the former Yugoslavia’s Defense Ministry, hit by missiles in US-led air raids during the war over Kosovo in 1999.

Under the contract with the government, Affinity’s project will include a “memorial complex dedicated to all victims of the NATO aggression,” Construction Minister Goran Vesic said in a statement. He called Affinity a “reputable American company” that will contribute to “development of Belgrade and Serbia,” without specifying value the of the contract.

Read more: Kushner’s Saudi-Backed Affinity Eyes Billion-Dollar Balkan Deals

The opposition New Democratic Party of Serbia denounced the plans to turn the emotionally charged location into “a hotel with a casinos, mocking Serbia’s culture, history and architecture.” It vowed to fight the perceived “fire sale to divest not only the most valuable and most beautiful lots but also the soul” of Belgrade.

NATO launched the air strikes in 1999, targeting government troops that were fighting ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo. The military alliance eventually forced then-President Slobodan Milosevic to relinquish control over Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008 with Western support.

Serbia is now trying to juggle aspirations of European Union membership with longstanding ties to Russia and ever-closer relations with China. Its president, Xi Jinping, visited Belgrade this month and has overseen a raft of investments in the Balkan nation in recent years as he seeks more sway in Europe.

During his trip, Xi vowed to “never forget” NATO’s deadly bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade 25 years ago — an incident the White House described as a mistake caused by faulty maps.

With resentment against NATO and the US still strong among many Serbs, opposition activist and leader of Environmental Uprising Aleksandar Jovanovic urged Belgraders to rally against the agreement with Affinity that would require clearing the site where the bombed-out buildings — declared national heritage in 2005 — have become part of sight-seeing tours by visitors.

“The moment bulldozers show up, we’ll be waiting for them,” Jovanovic told reporters in the capital. His organization is also spearheading an online petition to stop the project.

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