Milosevic on the defensive, opposition says

BELGRADE, May 11, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Serb opposition leader said on Wednesday that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic lacked support even in his own home town and vowed to intensify street protests against the Serbian strongman.

"Everyone saw Milosevic fired from an empty rifle yesterday when he couldn't gather a decent number of people for a (counter) rally in his home town," Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told Reuters.

He spoke after the opposition on Tuesday called off a rally in Pozarevac, accusing authorities of preventing it by detaining activists and blocking access roads into the eastern town.

Later on Wednesday, in two central Serbian opposition-run cities of Cacak and Kragujevac, anti-government supporters staged rallies.

In Kragujevac, some 10,000 people protested in the center and than marched through the city with many more joining. "Let us unite and launch the liberation of Serbia," Veroljub Stevanovic, the mayor of Kragujevac told the cheering crowd.

In Cacak, police banned the gathering organized by the Otpor (Resistance) movement, and it was held in the Cultural Hall packed with over 1,000 people and hundreds outside.

On Tuesday, the opposition had scheduled the rally in Pozarevac to protest against the alleged beatings of three opposition supporters in a town cafe last week.

The incident reportedly involved associates of Milosevic's powerful son Marko. The authorities have blamed the opposition for the fight.

Instead, local authorities - led by Milosevic's Socialist Party and its coalition partner the Yugoslav Left of his wife Mirjana Markovic - staged a street celebration to mark World War Two Victory Day, drawing only about 150 people.

Djindjic and leaders of other parties of Serbia's recently reunited opposition said they called off their rally to avoid clashes between foes and supporters of the government.

They said the police action to prevent demonstrators from entering Pozarevac showed that it had become a "forbidden city."

"There hasn't been a single day like Tuesday in Serbia in the last decade, when all civic and human rights - the right to gather, report, move - have been violated at the same time," Djindjic said.

"The opposition must continue with protests, must intensify the pressure for fair and early elections in Serbia," he said.

The opposition has agreed to hold another rally in Belgrade on May 15, instead of the one cancelled in Pozarevac.

An opposition rally on April 14 in Belgrade drew more than 100,000 people and Djindjic said he expected a similar turnout on Monday.

Djindjic said Milosevic had shown that he was not ready to compromise with his political opponents, referring to the Serbian strongman's speech on Tuesday on the occasion of World War Two Victory Day.

Milosevic, indicted for war crimes by a UN court, accused his political foes of being "little servants and bloody allies of the occupier who explain their treason as patriotic concern and patriotic moves."

"His speech clearly proved he was not going to go for a compromise with the opposition and people in Serbia who want him out of power," Djindjic said.

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