Serbs protest as police close another TV

BELGRADE, Mar 13, 2000 -- (Reuters) Police shut down a radio and television station in southeast Serbia on Sunday in what an opposition politician said was part of heavy-handed preparations by the authorities for elections.

About 30 officers, some in plain clothes, entered the station in the town of Pozega in the early hours of Sunday while more police blocked a group of demonstrators, the independent Beta news agency said.

Vladan Batic, coordinator of the opposition Alliance for Change, said the government appeared to be seeking to take control of all sources of information in the run-up to local and federal polls due this year.

Over the past week, federal telecommunications inspectors had already closed three local radio stations and a provincial television channel and nationalised a popular newspaper.

Batic alleged that the government would use planned military exercises by NATO in Kosovo later this month as a pretext to introduce a partial state of emergency, banning public gatherings to prevent protests and opposition campaigning.

"The united democratic opposition must react at once and block all moves taking Serbia towards a naked dictatorship. Every television, every radio station and every newspaper must be protected," Batic said in a statement.

"If we do not do so, tomorrow it will be too late."


The demonstrators, who stayed much of the night outside the television station in Pozega, around 180 km (110 miles) southeast of Belgrade, appeared to have done so in vain.

Later on Sunday, between one and two thousand people gathered in the small town to protest the closure. Police were out in force but did not intervene.

Opposition economist Mladjan Dinkic was one of several speakers at the rally who criticised the opposition leadership, saying its internal feuding over the timing of a joint, mass rally protest in Belgrade was encouraging the authorities to attack the media.

"They want to close down all media outlets one by one and see how people react. They are observing Belgrade and the people in Belgrade are silent, the opposition in Belgrade cannot agree on demonstrations and where to have them first."

Pozega's opposition Mayor Tihomir Marjanovic, said police broke down a door leading to the antennae and took away equipment needed to broadcast. The previous day, journalists told an inspector who had come to close it down that they had "lost" the key.

Yugoslav Telecommunication Minister Ivan Markovic had alleged on state television that the inspector from his ministry had been seriously injured by the crowd on Saturday and his car demolished.

Marjanovic told the crowd Markovic's statement was a lie and that the car had been only slightly damaged and the inspector had not been harmed.

Many non-government media in Serbia have been unable to obtain permanent licences and operate on temporary permits. Milovanovic said Pozega television and radio had paid all the bills it had received.

Allies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic say critical media are traitors working for the West - which has blamed him for a series of Balkan conflicts and made clear it wants to see an end to his decade in power.

Original article