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Milosevic supporters take to streets

Milosevic rally
A supporter embraces a poster of Slobodan Milosevic at a rally in Belgrade  

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Protests have taken place in Belgrade over moves to handover former President Slobodan Milosevic to the U.N. war crimes tribunal.

About 10,000 Milosevic supporters took to the streets of the capital on Tuesday.

After a rally in central Republic Square, the demonstrators marched through the capital to the Yugoslav government building.

Dozens of police equipped with shields formed a cordon to prevent any protesters from entering.

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The angry crowd chanted slogans such as "Freedom for Slobodan!" and "Treason, treason!"

On the way to the government building, some of them picked up stones and hurled them at the headquarters of one of the leading parties now in government. There were several minor scuffles during the march.

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Later in the evening, many demonstrators left, and about 2,000 remained outside the building.

The demonstration took place as the transfer of Milosevic to face an international trial on Kosovo war crimes charges seemed to loom closer. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic predicted it would happen soon.

The protesters waved banners with messages such as "Serbia won't give you away, Slobodan" and "Selling out the Serbs."

The banners refer to accusations that Yugoslavia's new reformist rulers have decided to hand the former authoritarian president over in exchange for crucial economic aid.

Some Milosevic backers wept openly at the rally, organized by Milosevic's once-ruling Socialist Party.

Others demanded the resignation of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who defeated Milosevic in elections last year.

"They want to extradite the defenders of this country," Socialist Party official Branislav Ivkovic told the crowd.

"Once a Serb is put on trial, the whole of Serbia will stand accused. The decision is unconstitutional and it is a disgrace to all of Serbia," he said.

The Yugoslav government, under pressure to step up cooperation with the U.N. war crimes court before a donors' conference in Brussels on Friday, adopted a decree on Saturday paving the way for transfers of war crimes suspects.

Half of Yugoslavs now say they favour Milosevic's handover to The Hague, according to an opinion poll published Monday.

Earlier Milosevic's lawyers met the head of Belgrade's District Court over moves to extradite him.

The court will decide on whether to grant the U.N. war crimes tribunal's request for Milosevic's extradition.

One attorney told CNN that the government was keen to see the process completed quickly. "They want to get him out of here by Friday and we understand that," he said.

Another of Milosevic's attorneys, Branimir Gugl, said the former president faces questioning by an investigative judge, a court panel ruling and a three-day appeal period over any extradition move.

Up to $1 billion in reconstruction money and rescheduling of much of the country's nearly $12 billion in foreign debt are to be discussed next week at the donors' conference in Brussels.

• International Criminal tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
• Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

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