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Yugoslavia's State-Run News Agency Declares Kostunica President-Elect, Signals Possible End of Milosevic Era

Aired October 5, 2000 - 3:16 p.m. ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We want to go -- join our sister network, CNN International, for the latest dramatic developments unfolding on the streets of Belgrade.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN BELGRADE BUREAU CHIEF: ... the state news agency, which was controlled by President Milosevic throughout his 10 years in power, that was the same news agency that last night gave us the news that the constitutional court had canceled the presidential elections that took place here on September 24. So there it is, another major pro-Milosevic institution that is switching sides, referring to Vojislav Kostunica as the president-elect of this country. It is a major development, of course, here. This is perhaps the first indication of a major state institution that is recognizing Kostunica as the president without a direct intervention of the opposition.

We understand that Studio B and other television stations, including state televisions had to be stormed by protesters in order to either go off the air, or start reporting the news the way it is seen from the side of the opposition. This time, we understand that there are -- there is no direct intervention from the opposition inside the Tanjug building, but according to news wires that are coming out of Tanjug at this point, they are referring to Vojislav Kostunica as the president-elect of this country.

Back to you.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: CNN's Belgrade bureau chief Alessio Vinci, as we continue to update the ongoing events in Yugoslavia.

Let's get more perspective now on the situation in Belgrade, we go back to London and we are joined by James Rubin, a former official with the U.S. State Department. James, are you with us?

JAMES RUBIN, FMR. STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: I'm with you.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Thank you very much for joining us. As events continue to unfold, first, state television goes dark and now the state news agency declares Mr. Kostunica to be the president -- the end game? RUBIN: Well, I think it's increasingly clear that the Milosevic era is -- the death of the Milosevic era is at hand and this is very good news for anyone in Europe, anyone in Serbia, anyone who has watched the terrible tragedy that has been the Yugoslavia disintegration over the last 10 years, as Milosevic has brought his country to this terrible point, where he's lost wars in Bosnia, lost wars in Croatia, lost the war in Kosovo, suffered terrible economic deprivation. And the people, finally, after this decade of terrible tragedy have had enough, and what we are seeing right before our very eyes is the steps by which Milosevic has kept power are being taken away from him, the parliament building, the television station, now the official news agency.

And we are seeing increasing signs, as we had hoped, that the security services, the police and the military, would not choose to attack the protesters, and you see clear indications that they are going to be extremely reluctant to engage in some crackdown if, at the final last gasp, Milosevic calls in for the troops to attack the people the way the Chinese communist leadership did in Tiananmen Square, so it's a very, very hopeful moment and the Milosevic era may finally, finally be over.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Applying some powers of observation, what do you make of the fact that the security forces really haven't been very visible and the army has not had a major presence in all of this, and the police have been relatively casual in their dealings with protesters?

RUBIN: Well, these are the fundamental questions in what keeps a regime in power that is an authoritarian or totalitarian regime. What is the psychology that keeps the police, the military following these terrible orders that they get from time to time? And what we're seeing is that psychology of power that Milosevic built up over 10 years evaporate before our eyes as the police and the military see that the people in huge, huge numbers, millions of them, have voted for him to leave office. And they are not prepared to do what other armies in other dictatorships in other terrible societies have done, which is put the guns to the people who are protesting.

So I think it's always been a big question as to whether the security services, the military, the special police, what would they do when the crunch came? And I think all of us who've been watching this over the last week were wondering what would happen. And we've seen the first clear sign today that when the crunch came, the security services backed down and let the protesters take the parliament and the television station.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Continuing to look into the future, Jamie, I mean, all of this is very exhilarating, now but the reality is that when Yugoslavia wakes up with the change in hand, the nation will be exhausted, the coffers empty. Where do you begin to rebuild a nation that has been essentially an outcast for a decade?

RUBIN: Well, that's a very good question. I think it's a problem that the Western leaders, particularly in Europe but also in the United States and elsewhere, it's a problem that they would love to tackle. How do you re-establish relations with this country in a good way? How do you begin the rebuilding of the terrible economy that's been destroyed? And all I can predict is that if this really does take place in the next day or two, and Milosevic is gone, that the Western leaders who fought so hard against him for 10 years will get their wits about them and put as much energy and effort and enthusiasm into building the peace that they did to confronting his evil during Kosovo.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN INTERNATIONAL CNN ANCHOR: James Rubin, former official with the U.S. State Department with your observations from London. Thanks very much indeed for joining us.

RUBIN: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: And our ongoing coverage of the events -- the breathtaking events in Yugoslavia will continue. World news from Washington. We'll take a break. We'll be back.

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