May 15, 2000More than 15 000 in anti-Milosevic rally
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Over 15,000 opposition supporters turned out in Belgrade Monday to blame President Slobodan Milosevic for Yugoslavia's isolation and poverty -- a fraction of the number who attended a similar event last month.
The opposition called the latest demonstration after canceling a protest in Pozarevac, Milosevic's home town, last Tuesday, accusing authorities of blocking access roads and detaining activists and independent journalists.
That rally was planned as a protest against the alleged beatings of three supporters of the Otpor (Resistance) movement in Pozarevac. Monday's organizers had hoped to get close to the 100,000 who attended a rally in Belgrade on April 14.
"We do not want war, we are saying 'stop the terror' and demanding free democratic elections," opposition leader Vladan Batic of the Christian Democratic Party told the crowd.
He and others wore the T-shirt bearing the clenched-fist symbol of Otpor, which began two years ago as a student organization but now says it has 50,000 members, including former Yugoslav president Dobrica Cosic. The authorities have branded it a "fascist-terrorist" organization.
SHOOTING IN VOJVODINA
The protest in the central Republic Square took place two days after the shooting of a senior government figure in Vojvodina province -- the latest in a series of high-profile killings in Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic.
Police said the gunman was an activist of Otpor and the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), the main opposition party, and detained several activists. Otpor and SPO denied involvement.
Vladimir Pavlov, an Otpor activist in Novi Sad, the capital of Vojvodina, said he and his colleagues had decided to "go underground, at least until this witchhunt abates."
Meho Omerovic, organizing Monday's rally, said police had stopped activists coming to Belgrade from other towns.
He told the independent Beta news agency that, according to his information, police had blocked exits from towns as well as the entrances to Belgrade. But a Reuters reporter saw nothing unusual on the road to the northern town of Novi Sad.
As ahead of the April 14 rally, foreign journalists were not allowed into the country.
"TIME OF RALLIES IS OVER"
Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic warned Sunday that the authorities would take action against Otpor, saying it was not a registered organization and that "the time of street spectacles is over."
Leading activist Ivan Marovic said he saw this as a warning that Otpor supporters might be arrested at the rally.
"We will go to the rally with all our insignia, T-shirts, flags and everything like we should. We are not afraid," he told Reuters Monday.
Authorities and opposition leaders have traded accusations over the murder of Bosko Perosevic, a senior official in Milosevic's Socialist Party and leader of the Vojvodina provincial government.
Socialist Party secretary-general Gorica Gajevic, speaking at a commemorative ceremony Sunday, accused the opposition of wanting to "set Serbia ablaze."
Yugoslav Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic told a government-sponsored rally in the central town of Vranje that the opposition were threatening civil war.
"Everything they did and are doing shows that they are complete traitors, mercenaries, killers and criminals," he told a crowd of several thousand, Beta reported.