Serb activists held ahead Of Belgrade rally
BELGRADE, May 15, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbian police detained several anti-government activists before a planned opposition rally in Belgrade on Monday that organizers hoped would draw over 100,000 in a repeat of a demonstration last month.
The protest was to start at 3 p.m. (1300 GMT), two days after the shooting of a senior government figure in Vojvodina province - the latest in a series of high-profile killings in the isolated Balkan federation.
Reuters reporters saw buses filled with police on the outskirts of the capital a few hours before the rally was due to get under way in Belgrade's central Republic Square.
The opposition called the demonstration after canceling a protest in Pozarevac, hometown of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, last Tuesday, accusing authorities of sabotaging the event by blocking access roads to the eastern community.
That rally was planned as a protest against the alleged beatings of three opposition activists there earlier this month.
Opposition official Meho Omerovic, organising Monday's event, said police were preventing activists from other towns from coming to Belgrade.
He told the independent Beta news agency that according to his information police had "blocked exits from towns as well as the entrances to Belgrade." But a Reuters reporter said he saw nothing unusual on the road to the northern town of Novi Sad.
Authorities and opposition leaders traded accusations on Sunday after the murder of Bosko Perosevic, a senior official of Milosevic's Socialist Party and leader of the provincial Vojvodina government.
State police said that the lone gunman was an activist of the Otpor opposition grouping and of the main opposition party, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO).
Socialist Party Secretary-General Gorica Gajevic, speaking at a commemorative ceremony on Sunday, accused the opposition of wanting to "set Serbia ablaze" and provoke civil war.
Both Otpor, branded by the leftist nationalist authorities as a "terrorist-fascist organization", and the SPO denied having anything to do with the killing of Perosevic, who was due to be buried in Novi Sad on Monday afternoon.
Police detained several anti-government supporters across Serbia following the shooting, later releasing most of them.
"A number of Otpor people were taken in on Sunday for questioning and we have decided to go underground at least for some time until this witchhunt abates," said Otpor activist Vadimir Pavlov in Novi Sad, the Vojvodina capital.
"I was taken in for an 'informative talk' by the police and interrogated for three hours on Sunday and then released. They asked me if I knew if (the alleged killer) had joined Otpor, if I knew anything about him," he told Reuters.
SPO leader Vuk Draskovic accused the government of putting Serbia on course for an abyss and seeking to provoke bloodshed.
Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic warned on Sunday that authorities may take action against Otpor if it "acts in the streets against the state," saying it was not a registered organization in Yugoslavia.
"The time of street spectacles is over," Matic said.
Leading Otpor activist Ivan Marovic said he saw this as a warning that its supporters may be arrested at the rally.
""We will go to the rally with all our insignia, T-shirts, flags and everything like we should. We are not afraid," Marovic told Reuters.