CEOL - Serbian opposition halts street rallies for now

BELGRADE, Dec 20, 1999 -- (Reuters) The stumbling Serbian opposition held the last in a series of daily street protests in Belgrade at the weekend but vowed to keep striving for the removal of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Several hundred people who attended Saturday night's rally booed the decision to call off daily gatherings. But they cheered ex-Yugoslav National Bank governor Dragoslav Avramovic, a man tipped to head a provisional Serbian reform government, when he said "we will celebrate in the end."

On Sunday, at a news conference, Avramovic said: "We might even decide to hold daily protests again... we shall see," but did not elaborate.

The Belgrade independent daily Glas Javnosti quoted Goran Svilanovic, one of the Alliance leaders, as saying the decision to stop protests reflected a majority vote within the Alliance and not a lack of unity or an internal split.

But Avramovic told reporters: "There were two stands within the Alliance regarding the protests, some thought they should be stopped, some did not. I was for the continuation of the protest personally."

On Saturday, Avramovic told the cheering crowd there would be no retreat. "We are going jointly towards victory. We are continuing with the protests after the next meeting of the Commission in the first week of January."

He told reporters on Sunday that western ministers who met opposition leaders in Berlin on Friday had set a two-month deadline to "create a joint platform" (against Milosevic).

Protesters Boo Decision To Call Off Rallies

Svilanovic, president of the Civic Alliance of Serbia, a member of the Alliance, told 400 booing people at Republic Square: "I am defending the decision (to drop protests for the time being) that I voted against.

"If we want to respect what we promised you, to create a democratic country out of Serbia, this entails respecting even those decisions that we do not agree with," he told people chanting "betrayal" and throwing snowballs at him.

The Alliance launched its street protests on September 21 with demands for Milosevic's resignation, the establishment of a provisional government and slating of free and fair elections.

But the numbers of demonstrators were never large enough to put the government under serious pressure, and turnout dwindled as disillusion grew. In the capital Belgrade on some nights, not more than a couple of hundred people showed up.

Opposition leaders who predicted Milosevic would go by 2000 have swallowed their words as their daily anti-government demonstrations foundered on the apathy, disappointment, helplessness and unease felt by ordinary people.

Alongside growing worries about joblessness, shortages and a possible return to the record hyperinflation of earlier this decade, lies a deep-seated fear of fresh violence between protesters and the authorities.

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