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Crowds demand Milosevic release

A young supporter waves a poster of Milosevic at Saturday's rally  

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Around 3,000 Serb nationalists have held a rally in Belgrade to demand the release from prison of Slobodan Milosevic.

The former Yugoslav president is facing corruption charges at home and is wanted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal, in the Netherlands, for alleged crimes against humanity.

Saturday's protest is the second by supporters of Milosevic since he was arrested a week ago.

Demonstrators shouted "Fascists! NATO murderers! Release Slobodan!" -- attempting to portray opponents of Milosevic as puppets of the West.

Some held up small squares of white paper with "Arrest Me, I am Slobodan" printed on them.

The protest blocked traffic in front of the Serbian republic government headquarters in central Belgrade. About 30 riot police were on duty to protect the building but the crowd appeared peaceful.

Three senior officials from Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) were cheered as they joined the rally.

"The Socialist Party strongly condemns the oppression behaviour of the authorities in their investigation against Milosevic," said an SPS pamphlet circulated among the crowd.

"Charges pressed by the Interior Ministry and their use of more resources (to detain and prosecute Milosevic) than in the fight against ethnic Albanian terrorists in southern Serbia is a disgrace to Serbia and Yugoslavia," it said.

"We demand Milosevic's immediate release and an end to staged political proceedings against SPS members and their persecution. Enough of lies and deceit. Long live Serbia, Yugoslavia and Slobodan Milosevic!"

Socialists name acting leader

Milosevic was ousted in a popular uprising last year and most Serbs, tired of a decade of Balkan wars and economic decay, have welcomed his detention.

Yugoslavia's new government wants to try him for allegedly plundering the state's coffers during his 13 years in power.

In attempting to defend himself against domestic charges of corruption and abuse of power, Milosevic has admitted financing Serb rebels fighting against independence in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Belgrade district prosecutor's office said it was checking reports that Milosevic sent gold to Switzerland and deposited the sale proceeds in Greece and Cyprus.

The Cypriot foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides told CNN his country would co-operate with Belgrade to help track down any funds.

The U.N. tribunal, in The Hague, has already charged Milosevic with crimes against humanity, related to a brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

But Belgrade has resisted pressure to hand him over to an international court, widely seen as anti-Serb, for fear of making him a martyr.

On Thursday, several hundred diehard supporters rallied before the iron gates of Belgrade's hill-top central prison where Milosevic is detained, calling for his release.

Reuters contributed to this report.

U.N. delivers Milosevic warrant
April 6, 2001
West pushes for Milosevic handover
April 4, 2001
Milosevic supporters take to streets
April 4, 2001
Milosevic admits funding conflicts
April 3, 2001
Relief in Serbia at arrest
April 2, 2001

Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Serbia Ministry of Information
Milosevic indictment
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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