CEOL
Belgrade students stage new protest march

BELGRADE, May 29, 2000 -- (Reuters) Belgrade students took to the streets on Friday demanding an end to state repression and urging opposition politicians to come up with a more effective strategy against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Activists also protested elsewhere in Serbia, with about 7,000 people joining an opposition rally in the southern city of Nis, bringing traffic to a standstill.

In Belgrade, thousands marched through the city center, disrupting traffic, to city hall where opposition leaders were meeting to prepare for a rally scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

The students said they wanted to hear whether there was a plan for action following the government's seizure 10 days ago of influential television Studio B and numerous arrests of opposition supporters in recent weeks.

But the leaders had already ended their session and left.

"They didn't wait half an hour for the students," said Ivan Marovic of the student-based Otpor (Resistance) movement.

"The opposition is risking its credibility if they don't come up with a plan," he said, accusing them of talking tough but failing to act.

"Disappointment in the opposition is one thing that is common these days," the Otpor spokesman told Reuters.

Some 2,000 students had earlier gathered in front of the philosophy faculty to back a demand by the Serbian Student Union and Otpor for teachers, citizens and the opposition to stage a general strike. The crowd swelled as the march got under way.

They called on Milosevic's government to allow a peaceful handover of power and asked all those responsible for the "disaster" in Serbia to resign.

Before heading to city hall, the students marched to Belgrade's Orthodox cathedral to pray for the souls of those who will "kick us and kill us," Otpor activist Branko Ilic told the crowd.

AUTHORITIES FEAR OTPOR

Police kept a low profile at the protest, part of a series held by students across Serbia in recent days. Many of them have brought crackdowns by the authorities, who fear the Otpor protest movement could become a focus of popular discontent.

Serbian Orthodox bishops came out in support of the students, urging the authorities to refrain from any violence against them, B2-92 radio reported, quoting a synod statement.

Opposition leaders have been campaigning to oust Milosevic since almost three months of NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia last year over his repression of the majority Albanian population of the southern Kosovo province.

So far they have had little effect, but the authorities have stepped up their crackdown over the past two weeks, accusing the opposition of being behind some of a series of mysterious assassinations of opposition and underworld figures.

Later on Saturday, at the tenth consecutive protest in Belgrade over the Studio B takeover, about 500 people booed as a report on United States President Bill Clinton's decision to extend sanctions against Serbia for six months was read out.

Police on Friday detained 13 people who tried to visit an Otpor activist imprisoned in the central town of Pozarevac, Milosevic's home town, and released them after six hours. A Reuters correspondent who was covering the event was among those detained.



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