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Russia Called Upon to Urge Milosevic to Step Down as He Appears to Run Out of Options

Aired October 5, 2000 - 1:42 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Again, our top story is the crisis in Belgrade as more than 100,000 demonstrators move into the streets of Belgrade, storming the Yugoslav parliament building, demanding the resignation of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

These demonstrators were turned back, temporarily, as they tried to enter the building by the riot police who were firing tear gas. But the police didn't use their batons or other weapons on them. Some of the police, apparently, siding with the demonstrators, allowed the demonstrators into the building. Some fires were set in the process; state television is on fire.

And all the world is wondering if this demonstration against Slobodan Milosevic, demanding that he resign, will be successful.

We are joined, now, in Moscow, by our Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty.

And the question being asked most repeatedly here in the United States, Jill, is if President Putin would step out and declare a runoff inadvisable in this case.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Lou, we'll probably find out the answer to that very shortly. President Putin has been on an official visit to India. He just arrived -- in fact, 15 minutes ago he arrived here in Moscow, and now he is expected to make a statement.

The statements that they have been making so far have been very, very carefully weighted. He's been talking about having a legal determination, the will of the people, et cetera. But now the U.S. and others are urging President Putin and Russia to come out very forcefully with a public statement saying that Mr. Kostunica is the winner of that election.

So now we will have to wait, for a few minutes at least, to see whether Mr. Putin will do that. After all, Russia, Lou, has been Yugoslavia's only friend in a lot of this, and the statement from Russia could have a lot of weight in Yugoslavia.

WATERS: Jill, Mr. Vojislav Kostunica, the opposition leader, stepped out in front of the parliament building not too long ago and, essentially, invited Moscow and Washington to butt out in all of this. What's the broader message there from Mr. Kostunica?

DOUGHERTY: Well, I would presume Mr. Kostunica does not want to look as if he is anybody's toadie in this; and it's -- I'm sure -- very sensitive for him domestically.

But Russia has not tried to directly intervene. What Mr. Putin did a few days ago, on Monday, was to invite both parties to come to Moscow and try to work out their disagreement over the election. However, neither party, Mr. Kostunica or Mr. Milosevic, took him up on that.

So, the Russian effort to bring them together failed and now it's really -- Russia's standing on the sidelines saying whatever it will say, but what the U.S. and others want it to say is that Mr. Kostunica won and that Mr. Milosevic should accept that. But we have to see how open Mr. Putin will be, or whether he will continue with a very careful line that Russia has been having so far.

WATERS: And we'll wait to hear that from Mr. Putin, if it does happen; Jill Dougherty keeping watch in Moscow today.

Natalie, what's next?

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Also covering the story, our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour; she is in London.

Christiane, you have such extensive knowledge of Yugoslavia -- covering that country for so long. How did it get to this point in this long saga since this election took place?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's because it has gone on for so long that it's gotten to this point.

Look, Serbia, Yugoslavia, has been through 10 years of losing wars, of isolation, of economic sanctions, economic deprivation, of pariah status. And the people there who are an educated, professional, well-educated people who have been part of Europe are frankly fed up.

As you can see, it's being demonstrated right now, and they have been for an awfully long time. Those of us who have been to Yugoslavia many times, who have talked to the Serbian people many times know that, under the rhetoric, under the public rhetoric, they are fed up and they have been for an awfully long time.

They want to be part of the world. They want a future, they want to be able to have jobs, they want to be able to live like normal people at the beginning of the third millennium. I mean, this is, to me, unsurprising, what is happening here.

As a person who has watched this, it just seems to me, this was the time that it had to happen. And this started in the first round of elections, when Milosevic, basically, manipulated the constitution in order for himself to be able to run for an unprecedented term and thought that he would win. And the people took that opportunity to finally, finally, send a message.

And what's been happening, obviously, in the weeks since is that they are trying to hammer home that message; and clearly, today, their attempts have reached a critical mass and they have taken matters into their own hands and they have done what many, many people did over Eastern Europe more than 10 years ago, when they forced down their communist government.

That is what is happening in Serbia today, Natalie.

ALLEN: Christiane, people will remember, during the Kosovo conflict, the United States kept expecting Slobodan Milosevic to stand down, and for so long that didn't happen.

Is it anyone's guess what he will do now, and where would he go if he stepped down from office?

AMANPOUR: Well, I think two things here. One: It was, perhaps, unrealistic to expect him to step down other than at this precise moment right now. Because in times of crisis, in times of war, the Yugoslav people, the Serbian people, rallied around their structure. They didn't want to be bombed, they didn't want to listen to what the West was saying back then, and they rallied around in terms of being patriotic at that particular time.

But questions, though, asked of the Serbian people right after that war made it very clear where their feelings lay. That they blame Slobodan Milosevic for their hardship; as much as they blame the NATO countries for bombing, the blame Slobodan Milosevic for bringing this state of affairs to bear on Serbia.

And finally, after 10 years of losing wars, the Serbian people woke up and realized that this had to end; and they have taken their constitutional and Democratic way out of this situation.

Now as for, where will Mr. Milosevic go? That's hard to say. He doesn't have a whole lot of options. He's clearly been spending the last week trying to figure out how to cling to power. How to play for time. What to do, whether he can, once again, attempt to discredit and divide and conquer the opposition. It simply hasn't happened this time as it has happened in the past.

You know that he's indicted for war crimes. Clearly the West is not making a huge, big deal about that right now because that's not the first thing on their mind. They want him to step down with as little violence and as little bloodshed as possible and get out of town.

Where would he go? There are many people who have suggested many places. There are, you know -- he's had support from places such as China. There are places like Korea, places like Burma. I mean, the sort of countries that, perhaps, would accept somebody of Mr. Milosevic's status and his situation right now.

But it's very hard to say what his alternative is right now, except to step down. Most people believe that this is the end. However, it would be foolish to out-and-out say that until we see exactly how this plays out.

As I said, this reminds me of what happened in Eastern Europe and even in Romania, which was the most violent of the Eastern Europe fall of communism.

On the other hand, remember Tiananmen Square, when, after many days of rioting, the Chinese finally cracked down. Serbia is different: It's not totalitarian; there is a certain element of Democracy. They have had certain access to elections, they have had certain access to a free press. There is more, sort of, a diversity there.

But we'll wait and see what happens. But to me, it seems that this is very close to the end.

ALLEN: We will continue to watch events unfold. It's coming up at 8:00 p.m. in Belgrade. Christiane Amanpour, thank you.

We'll continue to bring you developments. We'll take a break. More after this.

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