By DUSAN STOJANOVICYU government shuts down media outlets critical of Milosevic
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (May 17, 2000) - Police made good on threats of a crackdown on Wednesday, taking control of several media outlets that have been critical of President Slobodan Milosevic and his government.
Police in woolen masks took over Studio B television and the popular independent radio B2-92 overnight at the stations' headquarters in downtown Belgrade.
Employees of the leading private newspaper Blic and the student Radio Index also found their offices padlocked early Wednesday. About 50 employees of the four main media outlets stood outside the high-rise where their offices were located after security guards in plainclothes refused to let them in.
Milosevic's government had been threatening a crackdown on opposition forces since the killing Saturday of a senior official in the northern city of Novi Sad that authorities blamed on the opposition.
"The government has imposed an informal state of emergency," opposition leader Vladan Batic said. "This indicates an introduction of a civil war" in Serbia.
Aleksandar Cotric, a spokesman for the opposition-run Belgrade city government that owns Studio B, said after an emergency session of the city council that street protests will be called. Meanwhile, more than 100 opposition supporters blocked traffic in front of the building housing the four media outlets to protest the police action.
"We call on all Belgraders to come to defend their radio and television," Cotric said, adding that details of the planned rallies and protests will be announced after an emergency meeting by opposition leaders later Wednesday.
Tensions were running high Wednesday in Belgrade. Apparently anticipating protests by opposition supporters, police deployed at least three armored vehicles in a downtown park where officers usually gather before opposition rallies. Dozens of riot police, armed with automatic guns, were seen taking up posts inside government buildings.
The government said in a decree that Studio B was being taken over because it has "frequently called for the toppling of the constitutional order and rebellion against a legally elected government" in Serbia.
"The regime made a move with unforeseeable consequences," said Milan Bozic, Belgrade's deputy mayor and a member of Studio B's board of directors.
Dragan Kojadinovic, the general manager of Studio B, said hundreds of policemen rushed in and delivered the decree.
"They took over our broadcasting studios and every single office," he said.
He said there was no legal grounds for the government move and that the action represented "the first step toward the introduction of a state of emergency" in the country.
Opposition leader Zarko Korac said the government move shows "that the Serbian regime has opted for an open dictatorship."
"It is up to the citizens of Serbia to respond and say whether they want to live in such a society," Korac said.
Veran Matic, director of Serbia's Association of Independent Electronic Media and B2-92 general manager, called the moves "the most serious assault on independent media."
"The association urges all democratic forces in Yugoslavia and all trade unions and syndicates to organize demonstrations and strikes from now on," Matic said.
Studio B, which covers half of Serbia and was under the control of Belgrade's opposition-run government, has frequently been jammed over the last several months, but it managed to broadcast programs critical of Milosevic's policies. B2-92 was closed three times in the past, including during NATO airstrikes last year against Yugoslavia.
Studio B remained on the air Wednesday, but with news programming from the government station. B2-92 was broadcasting music. It ordinarily is predominantly a news station.
Studio B also aired footage from inside its offices that officials said was taken after the police raid. It showed empty alcohol bottles, NATO road signs and equipment a commentator said was used by Kojadinovic to spy on his employees.