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Yugoslav Unrest: Opposition Supporters Storm Parliament Building; Fmr. State Dept. Official Daniel Serwer Discusses 'Fantastic Moment'

Aired October 5, 2000 - 2:01 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: A dramatic turn of events in Belgrade today. More than 100,000 people filing into the streets, demanding the immediate resignation of the president, Slobodan Milosevic. For the past several hours, we've been bringing you these extraordinary scenes in and around the parliament building, with demonstrators storming the building and police trying to turn them back with tear gas. But since these pictures were shown, much has happened. It's about 8:00 in the evening there now.

And for the very latest, we're joining our sister network, CNN International and our Belgrade bureau chief, Alessio Vinci.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN BELGRADE BUREAU CHIEF: ... stormed the building. Again, the police reaction so far has been very mild. We have seen people storming -- breaking through the barricades of the police, are entering the building and showing little resistance from the police, who just, at this time, understand, has left completely the scene. The city center of Belgrade now is totally in the hands of the opposition.

Those pictures here refer to about six hours, five hours ago when the demonstrators managed to take over the parliament building. And as you will see, the resistance there from the police really very reduced, very mild. Opposition has said all along they wanted to turn these demonstrations into a peaceful demonstration, but, nevertheless, a group of 100 demonstrators managed to break through police lines, who did not offer much resistance, and managed to occupy the building.

Vojislav Kostunica, the opposition leader, a few hours later addressed the crowd in front of that same building that is now under the control of the opposition. And as the crowd -- as he was addressing the crowd, the crowd starts screaming, arrest him, arrest him, arrest him, mentioning, of course, the name of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

However, Kostunica, said he should not be arrested. He has already arrested himself a long time ago. He has escaped from his people. That was the words from Vojislav Kostunica.

We have those pictures now, addressing hundreds of thousands of people, not just in front of the federal parliament, but there are really crews coming back just now from the field. They're reporting that really hundreds of thousands of people are out in the streets of Belgrade. Mainly, those people have behaved quite well. There's been no major reports of looting or any kind of civil unrest or people taking advantage of this situation. I think what the people here today are celebrating, in Mr. Kostunica's word, is an "historical event." This is a victory for democracy. This Mr. Kostunica said addressing a crowd of, again, more than 100,000 people.

He said, for 10 years, Milosevic has been not there to face his own people, to talk to them, and more and more of his supporters are now switching to our side. Mr. Kostunica told the crowd, what we see today is history and we don't need Moscow or Washington to share that victory with. First of all, this is a new Serbia that will enter a new future with its friends, Greece, France and Norway. He said, Serbia is Europe. It is Serbia, but without Slobodan Milosevic.

Many of the hundreds of thousands of people there calling Vojislav Kostunica already the president of Yugoslavia.

We heard earlier from an opposition leader who told us that what they're asking for now is a statement from the army. They want the army to issue a statement, basically recognizing the fact that Kostunica won the elections on September 24. If that statement then happens, they will say that will be the end of it. So far, we have seen little resistance, little participation of the armed forces. We have seen no police in downtown Belgrade. The entire city center is controlled by the opposition. There are no security forces in sight.

Vojislav Kostunica there, talking to his supporters a few hours ago, completely undisturbed by any kind of police presence. There is absolutely nothing. It is really remarkable how police have really offered so little resistance. It is difficult to say at this time whether it is the police chief who refused to give an order or whether it is the police who refused to carry out orders. What is important, however, is the fact that, at this point, security services have not intervened to break up those demonstrators.

As I reported earlier, the state television is now under the control of TV stations. We heard also from an opposition leader telling us that now, at this time, thousands of people are moving towards the outskirts of Belgrade to try to take control of a major TV transmitter outside of Belgrade, and from there they say they will try to resume normal broadcasting of state television. The opposition here trying to gain control of the major television station in order to be able to broadcast to the rest of the country what are the events here in Belgrade.

We understand that most of the television stations now here in downtown Belgrade are controlled by the opposition. We have seen Studio B, the TV station that was taken over by Mr. Milosevic's allies back in May, is now already broadcasting not only pictures of their own, but also our own television pictures. We are the only TV channel here broadcasting live from this country at this point, and Studio B is rebroadcasting a little bit of what we've been reporting so far. Also, a television in Raja (ph) just outside -- which is one of the areas outside of Belgrade, also showing some pictures there of the takeover of the state television.

So certainly there is an air of revolution here, an air of victory among the people here. However, since the last few hours, there has been no reports of any more clashes, no reports of police intervention. People in the streets at this time are really celebrating.

WATERS: Alessio Vinci in Belgrade reporting on the tumultuous events unfolding. It's a fluid situation. As one of our experts said just a few moments ago, it appears to be the end of the end for Milosevic -- Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Back in this country, President Clinton says it would be, in his words, "inappropriate" for the U.S. to take any military action in this situation. He says all the U.S. and other nations should do right now is support democratic movements.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All we want for the Serbian people is what we want for people everywhere: the right to freely choose their own leaders. And, you know, it's been a hardcore dictatorship. They had an election. The election results were then apparently altered, and then -- now the court has made this decision, I think the people are trying to get their country back. And we support democracy and the will of the Serbian people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: And that is the sentiment being echoed by other Western leaders. Among them, the British prime minister, Tony Blair.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I say this to the people of Serbia: Whatever the differences there have been between us, now that you have reached for democracy, the hand of friendship and partnership from countries like Britain is there for you, so that, together, in whatever way we can, we rebuild this troubled part of Europe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Mr. Blair also had a message for Mr. Milosevic: "Go now," he said, "before any more lives are lost or there's any more destruction."

WATERS: Helping us understand this story now is a man who knows the region well. He's Daniel Serwer, who has just returned from Montenegro, which is still part of the Yugoslavian federation. A former State Department official, he's now the director of the Balkans program at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

We just heard Mr. Zarko Korac, an opposition leader, say just a few minutes ago from Belgrade that he is stunned by what happened today, the police -- the lack of resistance by police and the fact that now they must get to the army and get some statement of intent from them. How do you interpret what you're seeing here?

DANIEL SERWER, FORMER STATE DEPT. OFFICIAL: Well, it is stunning. Zarko is absolutely correct. This is a fantastic moment; one which is ending a dictatorship that began more than 10 years ago and has brought a lot of death and destruction to the Balkans. It's ending in street demonstrations in Belgrade today.

WATERS: And now Mr. Kostunica is telling Moscow and Washington to essentially butt out of affairs. He's spreading a message of nationalism, is he not?

SERWER: Well, he's spreading a message of pride, I would say. And he is a vigorous nationalist and he's not going to want to rely on foreigners. He will have to rely on foreigners in the end. Serbia's going to need an enormous amount of assistance, and I think the West, the United States, Europe Union, will be very generous with a democratic Serbia.

WATERS: What form of assistance would you expect there to be in the coming weeks and months?

SERWER: Well, initially, I think there'll be a focus on whatever humanitarian and social needs there are. But I think what Serbia really needs is a thoroughgoing reform of its economic system, it needs foreign investment. This is going to be a very long-term process. Kostunica is going to find the coffers empty when he goes into power. This is going to be a very, very difficult transition.

WATERS: And now Montenegro. The reason many say that the opposition was able to make these grand inroads today is because Montenegro did not inspire anything similar to what happened in Bosnia and Kosovo. It's sort of laid back during all of this.

SERWER: Well, Montenegro has been at risk for sometime now from the Milosevic regime. It's quite true that I think Milosevic found it difficult to do to Montenegro what he did to Croatia and Bosnia, because Montenegrins and Serbs generally regard themselves as the same people.

It's also true, though, that there are going to be problems for Kostunica that come, in part, from Montenegro, where the democratic forces boycotted these elections. So the representatives in the federal parliament from Montenegro are actually pro-Milosevic, or at least pro-Belgrade representatives.

WATERS: What do you expect to happen now, Mr. Serwer, with Milosevic being an indicted war criminal and being told he must go by world leaders, such as the president and Tony Blair today? Where does he go?

SERWER: Good question. I don't think he can stay in Serbia. Kostunica has said he won't have him arrested for war crimes, but there are going to be a whole lot of other crimes he could be arrested for, and there are a whole lot of people inside Serbia who would like to do him harm. I can't picture Kostunica providing extensive protection for Milosevic. Milosevic really has two choices: One is to flee. And I think the more likely places for him to flee are Belarus and Iraq, both of which have been allies of this Serbia and might be willing to help out. The other is to make a last stand. And I want to emphasize, I still think that it's not quite over. The army, some of the hardcore police, are still under Milosevic's control, as far as we know. He's mortally wounded, but he can do an awfully lot of damage on his way out.

WATERS: Well, on that rather pessimistic note, we thank you so much, Daniel Serwer, with the U.S. Institute of Peace.

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