ISTANBUL, Nov 19, 1999 -- (Reuters) Serbian opposition leaders urged the West on Thursday to end sanctions against Yugoslavia, saying this would boost their credibility among their own people and hasten the political demise of President Slobodan Milosevic.
Vuk Draskovic, head of the Serbian Renewal Movement, said in Istanbul that sanctions represented collective punishment of the Serbian people for what their government had done in Kosovo.
"Crack down the wall. Lift immediately all sanctions against Serbia," he told a news conference at a two-day summit of the 54-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). "This is the way to help democratic forces in Serbia."
Yugoslavia was the only European country not represented at the summit of the OSCE, a body which promotes civil and minority rights, arms control and conflict resolution to which the United States and Canada also belong.
Belgrade was suspended in 1992. Draskovic and other opposition leaders were invited to Istanbul by the OSCE at the request of Czech President Vaclav Havel.
Havel says strengthen democracy
Commenting on criticism of the opposition for failing to present a united front against Milosevic, Havel said it was normal in a democracy for politicians to disagree.
"I should like to recommend talking about things that support democracy as a system," he said. "Perhaps we should rather talk about how to isolate the regime without isolating the citizens. This seems to me to be the crucial issue."
Zoran Djindjic, a leader of Serbia's Alliance for Change opposition umbrella group, said the opposition had to step up peaceful pressure on Milosevic to hold free and fair elections.
One way for the international community to help to isolate Milosevic would be to resolve problems in Kosovo, where Serbs have faced attacks from ethnic Albanians and thousands have fled their homes.
"We must do our best to lift the sanctions...so the people in Serbia can see that the world community accepts us as partners," Djindjic said.
"This is the way to increase the importance and credibility of the Serbian opposition inside Serbia."
Zarko Korac, a coordinator for the Alliance of Democratic Parties, said that while opposition politicians would be portrayed as traitors in Yugoslav government media for coming to Istanbul, they in fact represented majority opinion in Serbia.
"All reliable opinion polls show that a majority of citizens today in Serbia are against Mr. Milosevic and his regime," he said. "The Serbian democrats, as different as they are, need support."
[URL may be different next day if article is archived]