Church leaders back Serbian protesters with solemn march
January 27, 1997
Web posted at: 10:00 a.m. EST (1500 GMT)
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Serbia's pro-democracy movement
Monday received a spiritual boost when the powerful head of
the Serbian Orthodox church led a solemn procession through
the heart of Belgrade.
It was the largest religious procession in the Serbian
capital since World War II, and witnesses said the march was
the biggest since half a million people turned out on
Orthodox New Year's Eve two weeks ago.
It showed support still ran strong for the pro-democracy
movement after more than two months of protests.
Patriarch Pavle, head of the church who is in his 80s, led
the procession, estimated at up to 200,000-strong at its
peak, through sunny but freezing early morning streets on the
holy day of Saint Sava.
The patriarch, flanked by about 20 chanting priests, walked
about 2 miles (3 kms) to celebrate mass at the Temple of
Saint Sava, patron saint of educators and the founding father
of the Serbian Orthodox church.
Priests in flowing robes
Unlike the boisterous anti-government protests of recent
weeks, Monday's march was near silent, except for the
chanting of priests in flowing robes and occasional bursts of
Pavle, who supports the demonstrators, called Monday's
procession in part to see if he could pass through a police
cordon that had blocked students from marching in the center
of the capital.
Police, who have clubbed demonstrators in recent days as the
pro-democracy protests have dragged into a 10th week, kept
Protests against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his
neo-Communist Socialists, who have been in power since
Communist rule formally ended in 1990, started after
authorities denied the opposition its local election
victories in Belgrade and 13 other cities.
Demonstrations have spread to some 50 towns across Serbia, in
the biggest challenge to Milosevic since he took power in
Later on Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov
was due to meet Milosevic in a bid to help break the
Western diplomats said Ivanov's visit came as a surprise. But
they were cautious about suggesting it could lead to a
A diplomatic source pointed out that the Russians, who have
close ties with the Serbian leadership, had been promoting
dialogue between the two sides.
The Zajedno (Together) opposition coalition maintains its
election victories, which have been verified by the West, are
And tension in the streets has escalated as baton-wielding
riot police Sunday beat back demonstrators. At least five
Orthodox gesture of defiance
The Orthodox Church, which backed Serb nationalist war aims
during the Yugoslav conflict, stayed silent for weeks while
pro-democracy protests swept Serbia.
But Patriarch Pavle blessed student protesters at a rally
last week and priests frequently have attended
The church's involvement Monday was seen as a means to
express the unity of the nation. "These are difficult times,"
said Mirjana Baltic, 61. "And this is where we can find
Reuters contributed to this report.
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