Students protest on streets of Belgrade
November 29, 1996
Web posted at: 10:05 p.m. EST (0250 GMT)
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Twelve days ago 23-year-old
Biology student Srdja Popovic was celebrating his triumph as
the youngest elected member of Belgrade city council. On
Friday, he was marching down the streets of Yugoslavia's
capital with tens of thousands of other demonstrators--mostly
students-- with a mission to bring down the government of
Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
The protests, the biggest since 1991, were sparked by
Milosevic's move to overturn the results of November 17
elections, which opposition political parties won in Belgrade
and 14 other major cities throughout Yugoslavia, the
federation now comprising only Serbia and Montenegro.
Carrying banners and shouting slogans: "Red bandits" and
"Give us our victory back", students waved their red report
cards and were greeted by workers on a downtown construction
site as they passed by.
At the main city square, students hurled toilet paper at
the building which houses the city's election committee
In front of the Supreme Court building the rally halted for a
moment to throw rotten eggs, then proceeded with the march.
The protests that have swept the country are now in their
The opposition accused the Socialists of massive poll fraud
and the Socialists organized a re-vote which took place
Wednesday in Belgrade and other towns where the Zajedno
(Together) opposition coalition won.
State media said the Socialists secured a majority in the
Belgrade city council.
Zoran Djindjic, president of the opposition Democratic Party,
said the opposition would walk out of parliaments
and local councils unless "forged" election results were
Opposition howls of protest are loud
The crowd Friday was slightly larger than the previous day
when an estimated 80,000 took to the streets. But the state
muffles their impact.
Milosevic has chosen to ignore the demonstrations, and his
state media has portrayed the Zajedno as outlaws and
"(It doesn't) matter (if) TV shows that we are just a few
people on the street, we are just a few for the national TV,"
said an angry Popovic. (236K/22 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Belgrade's independent radio station B-92 said authorities
jammed its news program, while journalists from independent
and state-backed newspapers have complained of attempts to
censor their coverage of the protests.
Despite the presence of riot police, Belgrade authorities
have so far refrained from using force to clamp down on
That is unlike the strategy five years ago when the
government did not hesitate to overpower short-lived protests
against government manipulation of the media.
And while forceful intervention by Milosevic could abruptly
end the mass rallies of today, it might also ignite them into
violent and bloody confrontation.
Parallels of what could happen next are already drawn from
the 1989 "Velvet Revolution" in Czechoslovakia, when Prague's
communist regime was overthrown -- and the state of near
civil war in Romania when anti-Communist forces toppled the
dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausecu.
"I hope it will go (the) Czechoslovakia course," said Miodrag
Perisic, vice president of the Opposition Democratic Party.
"And we do hope that Mr. Milosevic will not provoke the
violence on the streets. That is in his hands."
Milosevic behaving like a communist dictator
But there is another powerful political force at work--the
influence of Milosevic's wife Mirja Markovic, who heads her
Their opponents claim Markovic is radicalizing Milosevic's
ideology and that he is behaving more and more like a
communist dictator--an echo, the opposition said, of
Ceausecu's wife, Elena.
"Absolutely, there is a parallel," said Djindjic. "You had
the Ceasecu dynasty above the law--Milosevic has lost touch
with reality. She may be his Achilles heel."
If, as the opposition claims, elements for peaceful
revolutionary change are beginning to materialize there,
Milosevic is facing the biggest challenge yet to his rule.
In the face of such a sustained revolt, can Milosevic expect
"The security police, which have been pampered and well paid
by Milosevic, as with Ceausecu's security, will stick with
him until the end," said Michael Williams of the
International Institute of Strategic Studies.
"But we could see things spiral out of control in the coming
weeks," Williams said.
Efforts to mobilize the workers, a crucial missing element
for the opposition, may be put to the test with a call for a
general strike next week.
Many of those on the street said they did not believe
Milosevic was about to fall, but felt it was their duty to
Correspondent Brent Sadler and Reuters contributed to this report.
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