Serb opposition unites against Milosevic

BELGRADE, Jan 11, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbia's fragmented opposition united on Monday on a plan to launch joint anti-government demonstrations if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ignored their demand for early general elections by the end of April.

"We, the leaders of the democratic opposition decided to once again demand from Milosevic and both Yugoslav and Serbian parliaments to agree to call early elections by the end of April," Miladin Kovacevic of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) told a news conference.

"We agreed to stage the first street protest in support of our demands in March," he said after a six-hour meeting of 16 opposition leaders behind closed doors. In the first official reaction to the opposition demands, a Cabinet minister made clear the government was not likely to accept early elections.

"They do not have the authority to demand elections," Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic, who belongs to Milosevic's coalition partner the Yugoslav Left, told Reuters before the opposition clinched the agreement. The opposition agreement could turn up the heat on the increasingly isolated Milosevic, though three months of street protests last year failed to budge the Yugoslav strongman.

The Alliance for Change, which organized last year's protests, called them off after support dwindled, but the turnout could be much higher this time round since the SPO, the largest opposition party in Serbia, has agreed to take part. SPO leader Vuk Draskovic had declined to join last year's protests, saying they could offer a pretext to the authorities to start a civil war.

Leaders demand end of state terror

Kovacevic said other opposition demands included "an end to state terror and the abolishment of the information law and other repressive laws".

All the main Serbian opposition leaders, as well as representatives of Serbs from Kosovo province and of Serbia's Moslem and Hungarian minorities, attended Monday's meeting. All but one signed the two documents offered by the SPO after minor adjustments.

Draskovic told reporters that General Momcilo Perisic, former Yugoslav army chief-of-staff, fired by Milosevic in 1998, did not sign the documents because they did not include the demand for Milosevic's resignation.

"The documents are mainly acceptable," Perisic, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Serbia, told reporters. But he added: "Our initiative for demanding Milosevic's resignation in Yugoslav parliament has not been accepted."

Other opposition leaders have said such a demand will certainly be rejected. Both the Yugoslav and Serbian parliaments are dominated by Milosevic supporters. The opposition leaders, in a letter to the foreign ministers of the United States, the European Union, Russia and China, asked on Monday for the lifting of economic sanctions against Yugoslavia if Milosevic accepted early elections.

They also appealed to the "responsible people from the ruling coalition to step out in the same direction and request the end of the state terror and lawlessness and to give peace and democracy one more chance."

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