Milosevic holds strong hand despite rally

BELGRADE, Apr 17, 2000 -- (Reuters) Slobodan Milosevic may have been rattled by the turnout out against him at a landmark rally in Belgrade, but his political armory is still well stocked.

By filling the city center with cheering supporters on Friday, his opponents showed popular discontent runs high after almost 10 years of conflicts, isolation and economic crisis.

Whether the common front that brought out more than 100,000 people, one of the biggest crowds Belgrade has ever seen, will stand the test of time remains an open question.

Milosevic has six months before he has to call the first, less crucial, set of polls and an open field to practice the pastime for which he is justly world famous - divide and rule.

One official coolly dismissed the demand for early general elections from 16 opposition leaders lined up without obvious tensions for the first time in three years, telling a news conference the authorities were not a radio request show.

Other officials showed signs of unease and indicated that, the greater the pressure on them, the greater lengths they would go to demonize and divide their foes both from each other and the large number of Serbs undecided how to vote.

Serbian parliament speaker Dragan Tomic called the rally "the blackest fascism" and its organizers "scum" who wanted to dismember the country and hang those who did not think alike.

Milosevic's influential wife, speaking to her supporters as the demonstrators gathered, called their leaders "poisonous snakes" trying to destabilize Yugoslavia.


The opposition leaders were jubilant, saying the rally showed that united, they were able to rally large numbers of people, despite efforts by the authorities to put people off by warning that the gathering could turn violent.

"People have overcome their fear," Vuk Draskovic told Belgrade independent radio B-292.

But in the same interview, given just a day after the rally, Draskovic, who had only just brought himself to accept a handshake from his rival Zoran Djindjic at the rally, was already accusing him of breaking their unity deal of January.

Djindjic, head of the Democratic Party, had earlier announced his party and its allies would start a door-to-door election campaign on Monday, saying there was no time to waste.

Even before this latest row, state media had gleefully noted that the speakers at the rally were singing different tunes.

In a speech that clearly struck a chord with people exasperated by such divisions, student Vladmir Pavlov ordered the leaders to step forward and handed them the banner of his Resistance movement, which has grown rapidly in recent months.

"Anyone who betrays the cause is a xxxx," he shouted, using one of Serbia's most popular expletives.

The crowd gave him a big cheer.

On Saturday, as Belgraders went back to their everyday lives, the students were planning their next round of protests in a scruffy office not far from the central square.

Acknowledging they had their work cut out to keep the politicians together and convince people life could really be better with them than with Milosevic, Rade Milic took comfort from the rally, which was splashed across all non-government media.

"When I see the headlines," he said, "I feel that I'm not alone."

Original article