Milosevic 'aims to be dictator': Fears for life of opposition leader beaten in jail as his party faces ban

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The Independent Online
SERBIA slid further towards dictatorship under Slobodan Milosevic yesterday after the authorities announced moves to ban the largest opposition party, led by Vuk Draskovic, who was arrested and badly beaten on Wednesdsay.

'Milosevic has opened the way to a fascist dictatorship,' said Milovan Djilas, a leading dissident under Yugoslavia's late dictator, Tito. 'With the suppression of Mr Draskovic's party there will be no significant opposition in Serbia. Our country has entered the darkest point in its history.'

Mr Djilas said that a riot outside the Serbian parliament in which one policeman was killed was instigated by the

authorities to give them an excuse to crush the opposition once and for all.

Mystery surrounds the fate of Mr Draskovic. A Belgrade newspaper, Borba, claimed he and his wife Danica had received 60-day jail sentences, but the chief judge for Belgrade denied that report. Only one lawyer, Strahinja Kastratovic, has been allowed a 30-second visit to the opposition leader. He said that he feared Mr Draskovic had suffered brain damage from severe beatings in police custody. 'He was totally incoherent and did not know where he was,' he said.

A parliamentary deputy, Cedomir Edrenic, who was arrested with Mr Draskovic, said the opposition leader's life was in danger. 'I saw him being dragged out of a cell and it looked as if he had been badly beaten and had a broken leg. He could not walk, so that two men on either side dragged him along.'

The Serbian government yesterday expressed 'the highest praise for the professional, energetic and dignified behaviour of the police'. The public prosecutor said that Mr Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement should be banned for plotting the violent overthrow of the state.

Suppression of the Serbian Renewal Movement would mark a new stage in Mr Milosevic's step-by-step consolidation of absolute power in Serbia, which has gathered momentum after military successes in Croatia and Bosnia.

A convinced nationalist, Mr Draskovic accused Mr Milosevic of fomenting warfare in former Yugoslavia to establish a personal dictatorship.

Earlier this week Mr Milosevic ousted his last rival within the Serbian leadership, Dobrica Cosic, from his post as President of Yugoslavia. Mr Cosic said his former ally was now 'the ideological student of Stalin'.

But Mr Milosevic is famed for his intuitive grasp of what makes the average Serb in the street tick. He may have calculated that in this part of the Balkans, ruled by the Ottoman Turks for 500 years, the crushing of demonstrations with brute force inspires more admiration than horror among ordinary people.