Thousands attend key opposition rally

BELGRADE, May 28, 2000 -- (Reuters) Around 10,000 people gathered in central Belgrade on Saturday for an opposition rally seen as a key test of support of the campaign to end Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's rule.

"Today, the whole land, and especially Belgrade, is paralyzed by fear, despair and a feeling of helplessness," maverick opposition leader Vuk Draskovic told the crowd.

"What is this evil that has been done to this city, to this country, now that there are no aggressors' bombs?" said the bearded Draskovic, known for his popular touch and unpredictable behavior.

Concerted efforts to channel popular dissatisfaction against Milosevic began last year after the country was subjected to three months of NATO air strikes over the Serb strongman's repression of ethnic Albanians in the Kosovo province.

Protests have gathered pace since the government's takeover of Serbia's biggest opposition television station Studio B on May 18 - part of a growing crackdown on dissent - but the numbers have flagged.

Other opposition leaders have criticised Draskovic, who heads the biggest opposition party, for shying away from more radical measures. His party officials say he does not want to give the authorities any excuse for even tougher measures.

Riot police were out in force in the city on Saturday, but kept a low profile in the central square where the rally began at 5:30 p.m. (1530 GMT) with a roll-call of the opposition leaders, whose continuing squabbles have put many people off their campaign.

The turnout looked as if it would not match the 25,000 that attended the opposition's last major rally in Belgrade on May 15. A previous rally in mid-April had gathered more than 100,000 people.

The daily protests over Studio B have dwindled to several hundred from the 30,000 that turned out the first night.

Police used batons and teargas to disperse the crowd during the first two nights and scores of protesters were injured.

Original article