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Thousands rally in Belgrade against Serb TV seizure

BELGRADE, May 18, 2000 -- (Reuters) Up to 30,000 opposition supporters gathered in central Belgrade on Wednesday to protest against the government's seizure of an influential opposition television station, Studio B.

Belgrade media reports said some demonstrators had clashed with riot police after a peaceful start to the rally.

The independent Beta news agency said police intervened when protesters threw rocks at a police cordon. Beta, quoting eyewitnesses, said police beat demonstrators with batons.

Independent B2-92 radio said no one was seriously injured.

At the rally, Studio B journalists read out news bulletins, focusing on reactions to the government's decision to take control of the station, considered the most important opposition television outlet in Serbia.

The crowd swelled rapidly after the rally got under way shortly after 7 p.m. (1700 GMT), blocking traffic on one of Belgrade's main streets which passes Belgrade city hall and the Serbian parliament.

The European Union and security watchdog the OSCE have condemned the government action against Studio B.

The opposition had announced plans for the demonstration earlier on Wednesday, accusing authorities of leading the country into a state of emergency and open dictatorship.

It also called for acts of civic disobedience - blocking roads, street protests and work stoppages - "to show the regime their disagreement with its acts and defend their remaining independent media".

The seizure of Studio B early on Wednesday was the most severe action yet against non-government media, after a series of recent fines and lawsuits over their reporting.

Explaining its move, the Serb government accused the station of repeatedly calling for the violent overthrow of the authorities.

Studio B was run by Belgrade city hall, currently controlled by the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), the largest opposition party in Serbia and led by Vuk Draskovic - a prominent political foe of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.



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