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Anti-Milosevic protesters take to streets despite threats

December 2, 1996
Web posted at: 11:45 a.m. EST (1635 GMT)

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Ten of thousands of demonstrators braved heavy snow and threats of police action Monday to defy government orders and protest against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

In front of government buildings, the crowd of about 60,000 people chanted, "Let's go, all-out attack! Red bandits! Thieves!" The protesters are calling for Milosevic to resign and to reinstate opposition election wins that were annulled by courts two weeks ago.

Earlier, more than 10,000 students, some carrying flowers, marched in downtown Belgrade and announced plans for a larger demonstration later in the day.

There was little visible police presence at the protests, but witnesses told The Associated Press that busloads of police had been deployed around the city.

Past demonstrations have been tolerated by the government, but authorities broke their silence Sunday when Speaker of the Serbian Parliament Dragan Tomic said the protest was a pro-fascist conspiracy and compared the unrest to Hitler's rise to power.
movie icon (1.2M/27 sec. QuickTime movie: Brent Sadler reports from Belgrade)

yugoslavia map

In efforts to curb the protests, the government has banned all unauthorized demonstrations, and local courts recently sentenced five local opposition leaders to unspecified prison terms for throwing eggs.

Opposition leaders urged supporters to continue non-violent protests despite the threat of police action. "If Belgrade shows that it is not afraid, the victory will be ours," Vuk Draskovic told the independent Index radio station. "We are half a step away from our victory."

State-run media has left the demonstrations largely unreported, depicting the protests as isolated cases of rock-throwing by terrorists.

They have shown scenes of violence while ignoring the mostly peaceful nature of the marches and downplaying their size and scale. In recent reports, the media claimed gunshots were fired at Kraljevco City Hall in central Serbia.

Angry protesters responded by calling Belgrade the "lie capital" of Europe and denouncing government claims that the protests are small.

Meanwhile, the southern town of Nis, once a bastion of ruling party Socialism, has been holding well-attended protests. The people of Nis embraced the opposition during the elections and are angry that their choices were annulled.


Anti-government supporters in Nis are accusing the government of stealing their votes. Opposition leader Zoran Djindjic, at a Nis rally, told Index radio that the demonstrations would spread "to another six or seven towns. The network of protest and civil disobedience is taking hold."

The protesters have the Serbian Orthodox Church's support and hope to extend their anti-government movement to other towns. But the opposition has not received the crucial support of Serbia's huge labor unions.


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