Serbian town mayor stages sit-in over detentions

NIS, Jun 29, 2000 -- (Reuters) The mayor of Serbia's southern city of Nis staged a sit-in on Wednesday at the police station to force the release of 11 opposition activists and press photographers detained at a demonstration.

"You can only carry me away," said Zoran Zivkovic, mayor of the opposition-run city, when a high-ranking police officer asked him to stop his sit-in on the station steps.

Zivkovic ended his action when the eight opposition supporters and three cameramen, who were held for up to two hours, were freed.

The action by Zivkovic, a senior official in the opposition Democratic Party, came amid plans by President Slobodan Milosevic's government to adopt this week an anti-terrorism law that the opposition fears heralds a crackdown on its activities.

The opposition supporters and journalists were detained amid preparations for a mock ceremony designed to ridicule the Belgrade government by mimicking its award ceremonies and highly publicized reconstruction after NATO's air strikes last year.

The student-based protest movement Otpor had scheduled the ceremony, which was supposed to portray the presentation of a national hero award to Milosevic.

Police prevented the Otpor event taking place in the central city square. "The rally was not banned, but it was not approved either," a police officer said. After the Otpor supporters were detained, 200 people headed for the police station, but were stopped by a police cordon. They then joined the crowd of opposition Serbian Renewal Movement supporters.


Police singled out a local newspaper photographer and two local television stations' cameramen and took them into custody.

Top city officials, including Zivkovic and city government head Branislav Jovanovic, joined the crowd which had swelled to around 500 people. They were the only ones allowed through the cordon protecting the police station. "I have been detained before, so I already have a police record. The others have yet to be registered. This was the strongest police reaction so far," Otpor member Sasa Spasic, who was the first one to be released, told Reuters.

Nis Otpor activist Aleksandar Visnjic told a news conference in Belgrade earlier on Wednesday he feared the authorities may use the anti-terrorism to be passed by Yugoslav parliament on Friday against Otpor.

Yugoslav authorities on Tuesday released details of the draft law which lawyers said was clearly targeted against the Yugoslav president's opponents.

In May the authorities blamed Otpor and the opposition for the murder of a senior official of Milosevic's Socialist party. They have openly called Otpor a terrorist organization.

Police have frequently detained Otpor members during their various actions across Serbia, usually releasing them after a few hours of "informative talks". Otpor says 226 activists were arrested in May and about 180 so far in June.

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