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Milosevic supporters, foes clash in Belgrade

protest

U.S. condemns government provocation

December 24, 1996
Web posted at: 3:00 p.m. EST (2000 GMT)

In this story:

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Supporters of Serbian President Sloboban Milosevic -- some of them bused into Belgrade from the countryside -- fired shots at opponents on Tuesday during clashes on the streets of Belgrade.

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

Rival demonstrators also beat each other with sticks and metal pipes in the first bloodshed since the opposition began peaceful protests 35 days ago against vote-rigging by the ruling Socialists.

At least one person was hit by gunfire. Witnesses said at least three other opposition demonstrators were wounded.

A man emerged from a crowd of pro-government supporters, pulled a gun and fired into a crowd of opposition demonstrators, hitting one 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)

U.S. response

The United States said Milosevic and his government would be held responsible for any "violent actions" by their demonstrators.

"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.

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.

'Bleeding profusely'

The wounded man was "bleeding profusely" on the street as the gunman disappeared back into the crowd of government supporters, Arnett reported.

Later, however, doctors said later the man's head wound was not life-threatening. Witnesses said police detained the gunman.

At first, no police were in sight, apparently allowing protesters from both sides to "fight it out," Arnett said. icon (306K/30 sec. AIFF or WAV sound, report from CNN's Peter Arnett)

But riot police eventually appeared, firing teargas and making baton charges. The police pushed back both government supporters and opposition demonstrators. icon (224K/18 sec. AIFF or WAV sound, report from CNN's Steve Harrigan)

Milosevic's supporters convened in Belgrade's Republic Square, where the opposition has demonstrated for more than a month demanding that their victories in local elections be recognized. Earlier in the month, the demonstrations reached a peak of more than 200,000 people.

Opposition leaders said they were considering calling off their supporters after learning that many of the government supporters were carrying arms.

Demonstrators bused in

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

milosevic

"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 pro- and anti-Milosevic protesters 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."

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

 
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