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Yugoslavia: Protesters Continue to Celebrate in Streets of Belgrade

Aired October 5, 2000 - 4:46 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Our man in Belgrade, Alessio Vinci, is standing by with new developments on the streets of Belgrade.

Alessio, tell us what is happening at this late hour in Yugoslavia.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what is happening at this late hour is that people are celebrating a victory over what they say is the 10 years of repression from Slobodan Milosevic. They are celebrating in the streets. They are drinking. They are singing. They are listening to rock music. It is a very peaceful crowd at this time, at least in the last few hours.

Certainly, a major dramatic difference from what we are -- saw earlier today when they tried to storm the federal parliament. However, we must caution one thing, is that so far, we have not heard either -- neither from the police nor from the army about what is going to be their reaction in the next few hours.

As I'm sure you can hear me behind these trucks.


Wolf, I was telling you that it is not clear at this point what is the official stand of the police and the army. We have seen throughout the day -- and we have been reporting -- that the army and the police especially have not intervened in trying to break up those demonstrations. And opposition leaders told us earlier that, basically, the police had collapsed.

However, that same opposition leader, just a few minutes ago, told us that opposition representatives have talked to the head of the Belgrade police. And they have asked a meeting with the interior minister of Serbia. However, the interior minister of Serbia has refused to meet with the opposition leaders. And therefore, it's still unclear what exactly the reaction of the police and the army will be in the next coming hours.

There is a possibility here that perhaps what President Milosevic is trying to do is trying to wear down those demonstrators until they all go home, and then trying to reclaim control over some of those buildings. On the other side, we don't really know whether the police, at this point, failed from intervening against the crowd, because it did not receive the order, or whether because it did not obey an order.

That is, of course, a major difference. And, at this point, we have reports that the army -- at least in some parts of Belgrade -- are mingling with the sympathizers. We have seen a girl wearing a Yugoslav army helmet. So certainly, some soldiers here in Belgrade were sympathizing with the protesters. Whether this is spread out throughout the country, it's too early to say, wolf.

BLITZER: And Alessio, just to nail down this point, one of the key pillars of President Milosevic's strength over these years has been the control of the official state news media. And now you are telling us that the official news agency, Tanjug, as well as the state television, are both under the control of the opposition. Is that correct?

VINCI: That is correct, Wolf. They are in control of state television and the Tanjug News Agency, that same news agency that, no more than 24 hours ago, was reporting that the presidential elections were null and void -- that news agency today referring to Vojislav Kostunica as the president-elect.

So certainly, several institutions that were behind President Milosevic for -- throughout his decade-long rule are now switching sides, either because the opposition has physically taken over those buildings -- like in the case of Serbian television -- or because, voluntarily, Serbian journalists are switching sides, because they now realize that it is the people who are winning this long battle with President Milosevic.

BLITZER: And Alessio, if you could just share with us a little bit of the flavor right now, what they're saying on the state-run television, which is now in the control of the opposition -- and the radio stations. How are they reporting all of these developments? And what are they saying about fate of President Milosevic?

VINCI: Well, they're not saying anything about President Milosevic. What they are showing on television are pictures from -- throughout this day. Remarkably enough, they have seen some local TV stations, who have seen -- who have shown the takeover of the TV studio in downtown Belgrade.

They also are showing the hundreds and thousands people in the streets of Belgrade. And we have seen some opposition leaders taking to the airwaves and basically telling the citizens -- and I am quoting here from one of those leaders -- who went on TV just a few hours ago, Nebojsa Covic, the former mayor of Belgrade, a former Socialist, a former ally of President Milosevic, who switched sides many years ago and decided then to throw his support behind opposition candidate, Vojislav Kostunica.

He said: "Dear citizens, I am honored," said. "Serbia is now a Democratic country. People from all over the country came to take part in it. And the police also joined us. Please save the country from the dictator." So this is the kind of thing that the opposition leaders are telling their supporters. They are trying to use the state media, trying to use whatever they can in order to drum up support. The opposition leaders must now try to keep those people in the streets for as long it takes, for as long as President Milosevic does not concede defeat officially. And we are still a little bit far from that at this point.

We have seen institutions slowly crumbling all around it. But so far, we have not heard from the police and the army. And this is what is really the next step. We have to hear from them first -- opposition leaders calling on the army to issue a statement. Making very clear, they are saying: We want the army to recognize Vojislav Kostunica as the president of Yugoslavia.

BLITZER: All right, Alessio --, stand by. You've been doing a terrific job today for us in Belgrade.

I want to bring back Jill Dougherty, our Moscow bureau chief. The Russians, historically, have had influence in the Balkans, certainly in Yugoslavia. And the Russian position is slowly but surely unfolding to these dramatic developments.

Jill, share with us the latest.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Well, the latest is that it's very incremental, Wolf. It is -- it is changing, but it hasn't really come to the position that some in the West would want Mr. Putin to be in.

And that is to be very overt and say Kostunica won and this is the end of the road for Mr. Milosevic. He did not go that far. President Putin was on a trip to India -- and as all of these events were unfolding in Yugoslavia. And as he arrived back here in Moscow at the airport, he held an immediate meeting with his top security people.

After that, he issued the statement in which he said Russia was always a friend of Yugoslavia: We are ready -- we, Russia -- are ready to make a contribution so it can get out of this crisis -- and he said: out of international isolation. The people of Yugoslavia, he said, went through many difficulties, overcame many difficulties, and together they can get through this too. And Russia is prepared to do everything it can to help.

Now, Mr. Putin, earlier this week on Monday, had offered to host a meeting in Moscow between Slobodan Milosevic and Mr. Kostunica. Neither candidate accepted that invitation. So now Russia in a careful statement -- not really going too far -- is again saying it's ready to help. What that help would entail at this point is hard to see -- Wolf.

BLITZER: OK, Jill Dougherty in Moscow. I am sure we will be back to you as well.

We want take a quick commercial break. When we come back, we will check in with the White House to see what the Clinton administration is doing about these dramatic developments in Yugoslavia.

Stay with us.



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