Thousands rally for and against Milosevic in Serbia

BELGRADE, Sep 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) Some 20,000 people rallied on Friday in the central Serbian town of Kragujevac to support election foes of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who had campaigned in the town earlier in the day, Beta news agency said.

"Milosevic is so scared he is a walking dead man," the independent agency quoted Velimir Ilic, the opposition mayor of the western town of Cacak, as telling the cheering crowd.

An eyewitness said the leaders of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) bloc, comprising 18 parties and an association of trade unions, took twenty minutes to push their way through the crowd before the stage in the town square.

"Everyone wanted to shake hands with them," the eyewitness told Reuters.

In Kragujevac earlier on Friday, Milosevic made his second public appearance since he called countrywide elections for September 24. State television reported that some 25,000 residents, mostly workers from the town's car factory Zastava, had come out to greet him.

"You have defended and rebuilt Zastava, just like the entire people have succeeded in defending the country and rebuilding it," Milosevic told the assembly, praising the workers for their heroism during last year's NATO bombing campaign.

The opposition bloc has been campaigning since September 7 and is due to visit 50 Serbian towns in 12 days in an effort to persuade people to turn out in large numbers and vote Milosevic out of power.

This was the best rally we have had so far," an opposition activist said.

"Vote for (Vojislav) Kostunica - he is the candidate who rallied the entire opposition," Zoran Djindjic, the leader of the Democratic Party, told the crowd.

Kostunica, who is campaigning separately and was not in Kragujevac, is the bloc's joint presidential candidate and opinion polls put him well ahead of Milosevic. The latest survey, published on Friday, gave Kostunica 40 per cent against 22 per cent for Milosevic.

Dragoljub Micunovic, head of the Democratic Center, told the rally: "It is enough if the new government which will be elected after September 24 does the exact opposite of the current one, and the whole country will flower."

In Belgrade, police detained 12 opposition activists and a lawyer for most of Friday after a search of their campaign headquarters and later also briefly held their party's leader, supporters said.

In the latest of a series of such arrests before the elections, police swooped on a building rented by the Civic Alliance Party in Belgrade, the party's deputy head Gasa Knezevic told reporters.

The Alliance is one of the 18 parties in the opposition bloc.

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