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Students protest on streets of Belgrade

march 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.

Popovic quote

At the main city square, students hurled toilet paper at the building which houses the city's election committee headquarters.

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 11th day.

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 overturned.

crowd side

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 provocateurs.

"(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. icon (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 dissent.

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."

night march

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 own party.

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 unquestioned support?

"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 march.

Correspondent Brent Sadler and Reuters contributed to this report.


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