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Milosevic opponents won't back down, despite shooting


Peaceful protests turn bloody for first time

December 24, 1996
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EST (0230 GMT)

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BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Hours after a supporter of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic shot and wounded an anti-government protester, an opposition leader said Milosevic had squandered his chance to negotiate an end to the demonstrations.


"From today, not any chance of dialogue with him. He must resign," said Vuk Draskovic, a Together coalition leader.

Milosevic supporters, some of them bused into Belgrade from the countryside, fired shots at opponents Tuesday during clashes on city streets.

Some demonstrators beat each other with sticks and metal pipes. It was the first bloodshed since rallies began 35 days ago to protest Milosevic's decision to annul local elections won by the opposition.

movie icon (988K/22 sec. QuickTime movie)

Riot police break up fighting


In addition to the man hit by gunfire, two people were stabbed and several others were wounded.

Before the shooting, a man emerged from a crowd of government supporters, pulled a gun and fired into a crowd of opposition demonstrators, hitting the man in the head, CNN's Peter Arnett reported live from Belgrade. icon (199K/18 sec. AIFF or WAV sound, report from CNN's Peter Arnett)

Doctors said the head wound was not life-threatening, and witnesses said police detained the gunman.

According to journalists in Belgrade, Milosevic's opponents produced a turnout of almost 200,000 people, more than twice the number who rallied in support of the president.

At first, no police were in sight, apparently allowing protesters from both sides to "fight it out," Arnett said.

But riot police eventually appeared, firing tear gas and swinging batons to push back government supporters and opponents.

U.S. response

U.S. officials said Milosevic and his government would be held responsible for any "violent actions" by their backers.

"The Serbian authorities have flagrantly and provocatively chosen to heighten tensions by bringing thousands of people into Belgrade to confront the peaceful demonstrations by the opposition," Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said in a statement.

Demonstrators: forced to rally?


Hundreds of buses carrying Milosevic supporters -- mostly blue-collar workers and elderly people -- arrived in Belgrade earlier Tuesday. Some workers said they were forced to board the buses under threat of dismissal.

"I had no choice," a worker from the Kosovo province town of Prizren said, identifying himself only as Ljuba. "We were told either we board the buses or we lose our jobs."

The pro-Milosevic rally was planned for the same time and place as the daily opposition rallies.

Clashes between supporters and opponents of Milosevic would give Serbia's president an excuse to ban all demonstrations and use force against his opponents, whose protests so far have been peaceful.


In his first public appearance since the crisis began, Milosevic warned: "No one will be allowed to destabilize Serbia."

Opposition leaders said they were considering calling off their demonstrations, after learning that many of the government supporters were carrying arms. Yet late Tuesday, Arnett reported that the opposition, now fully aware of the danger, planned to return to the streets Wednesday morning.

Correspondents Peter Arnett and Steve Harrigan in Belgrade and Reuters contributed to this report.


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