Turnout down at fresh anti-Milosevic rally

BELGRADE, May 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) Up to 25,000 opposition supporters rallied in the Yugoslav capital on Monday, accusing the authorities of seeking civil war, but the crowd was much smaller than a similar demonstration last month.

Some 20,000-25,000 protesters gathered in downtown Republic Square in sunny weather to blast President Slobodan Milosevic for Yugoslavia's international isolation and poverty.

Leaders of the recently united opposition addressed the crowd, calling for elections and for Milosevic, indicted by a UN court for war crimes in Kosovo province, to quit power.

"... We have to rebel against the killers and the terrorists who are ruling Serbia today," said Vuk Draskovic, head of the main opposition party, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO).

The crowd shouted anti-government slogans such as "red bandits" and "uprising."

Opposition leaders said earlier that Serbian police had blocked access roads to Belgrade to keep out protesters arriving from the provinces. There was no notable police presence in the vicinity of the demonstration.

The opposition staged the latest rally after canceling a protest in Pozarevac, Milosevic's home town, a week ago, accusing authorities of blocking access roads and detaining activists and independent journalists to sabotage the event.

That rally was planned as a protest against the alleged beatings of three supporters of the Otpor (Resistance) movement in Pozarevac. Monday's organizers had hoped to get close to the 100,000 who attended a rally in Belgrade on April 14.


Some would-be demonstrators on Monday might have been scared off by dire government warnings about violence and word that some activists were being detained, opposition figures said.

"(The lower turnout) showed that is not good to repeat (such) things," opposition New Democracy leader Dusan Mihajlovic told Reuters. "It also showed that we have to resort to other means to achieve our goals - fair elections at all levels."

Democratic Party head Zoran Djindjic denounced the leftist nationalist authorities as "forces of madness and chaos" and said they wanted to start civil war in Serbia.

He appeared to urge the army and police to ditch Milosevic, saying: "The greatest responsibility lies with those in uniforms because they can end all this painlessly and rapidly."

Batic and Djindjic both wore a T-shirt bearing the clenched-fist symbol of Otpor, which began two years ago as a student group but now says it has 50,000 members, including former Yugoslav President Dobrica Cosic. The authorities have branded it a "fascist-terrorist" organisation.

The protest occurred two days after the shooting death of a senior provincial government figure - the latest in a series of high-profile killings in Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic.

Authorities and opposition leaders traded accusations over the murder of Bosko Perosevic, a high official in Milosevic's Socialist Party and head of the Vojvodina provincial government.

Police said the gunman was an Otpor and SPO activist and detained several activists over the weekend and on Monday. Otpor and SPO denied involvement.

Djindjic told Reuters that the purpose of Monday's rally was to show support for Otpor which he described as the most threatened political organization in the country.

"I think Milosevic got the message that if the repression against Otpor continues, it will provoke a chain reaction whose end no one can predict," he said.

Yugoslav Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic told a government-sponsored rally in the central town of Vranje that the opposition were threatening civil war.

"Everything they did and are doing shows that they are complete traitors, mercenaries, killers and criminals," he told a crowd of several thousand.

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