Serbian police arrest opposition activists

BELGRADE, Sep 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) Police in Yugoslavia detained 12 opposition activists and a lawyer for most of Friday during a search of their Belgrade campaign headquarters and also briefly held their party's leader, supporters said.

In the latest of a series of such arrests before countrywide elections on September 24, police swooped on a building rented by the Civic Alliance Party in Belgrade, party lawyer Gasa Knezevic told reporters.

The independent Beta news agency said the activists had been released after almost 11 hours in detention and following hours of protests by their relatives and friends outside the main Belgrade police station.

Beta quoted one of those released, Aleksandar Djukic, as saying the police had examined party records and asked the 12 if they had any link with the popular student-based Otpor movement.

Knezevic, who is also a deputy head of the Alliance, said police had taken away all the computers and posters for the campaign from the party's premises.

They also briefly detained party leader Goran Svilanovic when he arrived at the police station with others.

"One of the officers seemed to have recognized me and told the others. After half an hour I was told I was free to go," Svilanovic told Reuters by telephone. Three other people from the crowd detained with him were still being held, he said.


Police regularly detain activists from Otpor, but Svilanovic, 36, was the first party leader to be held and his party premises were the first to be raided.

Svilanovic is not a high-profile leader, but is widely respected.

Early on Friday police in Novi Sad, capital of Vojvodina province, arrested an Otpor member in connection with the murder of a senior government official in May.

Stanko Lazendic, 27, was returning to Serbia from the Bosnian Serb Republic on a bus at 4 a.m. when police arrested him and took him to a police station in Sremska Mitrovica, his brother Milan told Reuters.

Lazendic was released after 18 hours of detention. Dozens of relatives and supporters had gathered in front of the police station to demand his release.

Lazendic told reporters he had been told his detention had been connected to the killing of Bosko Perosevic, popular head of the Vojvodina provincial government and a senior official of Milosevic's Socialist Party, who was assassinated on May 13.

Milos Gagic, 28, another Otpor member who has been accused of involvement in the murder, said he been on the same bus as Lazendic but had not been arrested.

Gagic told a news conference that he and Lazendic had been returning to Serbia to turn themselves in to police because they knew they were innocent.

An opinion poll published on Friday indicated that leading opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica led Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by 40 percent to 22 with nine days to go before presidential and parliamentary elections.

Original article