Fear seen factor at Serb opposition rally

BELGRADE, May 17, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbian opposition politicians on Tuesday blamed the low turnout at an anti-government rally in Belgrade on a climate of fear following the weekend murder of a prominent Yugoslav official.

But they insisted they were not disappointed with Monday's demonstration against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and vowed to continue with similar protests elsewhere to drive home their demands for change in the isolated Balkan country.

The rally in the capital's Republic Square drew around 25,000 people, compared to some 100,000 at a similar demonstration a month earlier.

"We are satisfied with both the turnout and the rally," said Vladan Batic of the Christian Democratic Party, and coordinator for the Alliance for Change opposition grouping.

The head of the opposition Civic Alliance of Serbia, Goran Svilanovic, said threats against and detention of opposition activists following the murder had spread fear which kept people away from the demonstration, which ended without incident.

The editor of the VIP independent newsletter, Bratislav Grubacic, took a similar line, saying: "They were afraid of being beaten."

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic said opposition to Milosevic was losing steam, telling a Moscow news conference: "This shows the slowing down and reduction in the numbers of followers."

The rally took place two days after the shooting of a prominent establishment figure in northern Vojvodina province, the latest in a series of high-profile killings in Serbia.

Authorities and opposition leaders have traded blame over the murder of Bosko Perosevic, a senior official in Milosevic's Socialist Party, accusing each other of wanting to plunge Serbia into civil war.

Police said the gunman was an activist of the Otpor (Resistance) movement and the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), the main opposition party, and detained dozens of activists.

The opposition denied any involvement, accusing the authorities of using the murder for political purposes.

On the eve of the rally, Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic warned that the authorities would take action against Otpor, saying "the time of street spectacles is over".

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

Original article