Friday, 14 April, 2000Belgrade rally challenges Milosevic
An estimated 100,000 people have been taking part in a rally in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, in the first major protest against President Slobodan Milosevic for six months.
Serbia's main opposition groups staged the rally to demand early elections.
Opposition Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic told the gathering that the government was at war with its own people.
In a speech broadcast on independent Radio B2-92, he said: "Serbia is being killed under the burden of one million refugees and homeless people, because we are isolated from the world like a country of plague.
We want to change this, we want to stop the slow death of our nation, and the dismemberment of our state."
Mr Draskovic accused the government of leaving half the population unemployed and the rest destitute, and of terrorising its own citizens.
"The life we lead is no longer a life, because they are killing us, they are beating us, because they are arresting us, because they are accusing us, because they are expelling us from this country on a daily basis, because we are living in poverty, in humiliation," he said.
In his speech, Serbian Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told the rally that the opposition wanted to return Serbia to the European mainstream.
"We want to get out of the 10-year circle of destruction, suffering and poverty, to return to Europe, to establish a strong and well-run state which will safeguard and defend the lives and rights of its citizens," he declared.
Bus-loads of opposition supporters had earlier been stopped by police on the outskirts of Belgrade, and there was a heavy police presence around the central Republic Square, where the rally was held.
It was the first such demonstration since the main opposition parties overcame their differences in January this year and agreed to a joint strategy aimed at overthrowing President Milosevic.
It ended peacefully after about three hours, and the crowd dispersed without incident.
BBC Belgrade correspondent Jacky Rowland says the event was an important test of the opposition's credibility.
The opposition Alliance for Change leaders told a news conference on Thursday that the demonstration would be a turning point for the opposition, and mark the beginning of daily action to exert pressure on the authorities.
Local elections are currently due in the second half of 2000, national elections in September 2001 and a presidential ballot in December 2002.
President Milosevic's government has so far dismissed demands to bring them forward.
The authorities in Belgrade refused entry to a number of foreign journalists who arrived to report on Friday's demonstration.
The six journalists, as well as three trade union representatives from Spain, were reported to have been confined to Belgrade airport after being told to take the first flight home.