Milosevic faces rally of 20,000

Click to follow
AS MANY AS 20,000 people gathered in the central Serbian town of Kragujevac last night for the largest organised rally against Slobodan Milosevic since the Nato bombing campaign.

The crowd cheered Vuk Draskovic, the wild man of the opposition, making his first reappearance as a born-again opponent of Slobodan Milosevic. Draskovic called for the birth of "another Serbia", and said that "the shame in Kosovo" was alone enough to justify Milosevic's resignation.

This was very much a Vuk show. Demonstrators waved party banners and full-colour posters of Draskovic himself. Many climbed trees in order to get a better view of their hero. But some of those attending the rally were there less for Draskovic than in order to articulate a single demand. Silvana, a 36-year-old secretary, said: "[Milosevic] must simply go. He just destroyed our country - and made us the worst country."

The opposition hopes that last night's rally will mark the beginning of what they describe as a "hot summer" for the regime. At least as important, however, may be the smaller, spontaneous protests that have erupted across the country, often in areas where Milosevic's ruling Socialists were until now impregnable. If he were to fight an election again, it seems certain that Milosevic would be humiliated as never before.

But it is still by no means clear that Draskovic or his main opposition rival, Zoran Djindjic, would be the winners. The opposition remains deeply divided. On Thursday night Djindjic spoke at a rally in the town which was organised in implicit competition with Draskovic's rally last night. On only one point are they truly united: that Milosevic should go. As one placard declared yesterday: "If Slobo `wins' another war there will no longer be a Serbia." The city council in Kragujevac called last week for his resignation.

The mayor, Veroljub Stevanovic, told the Independent on Sunday that pressure from the street is "strong and decisive". But he warned of the risk of bloodshed, saying: "What we're doing is very dangerous. With this regime, you never know. Anything is possible."

In Kragujevac yesterday it was difficult to find anybody who had a good word for the Yugoslav president. Zoran Neskovic, 27, who had been to Thursday's rally, was determined to go last night as well, saying: "The only enemy is Slobodan Milosevic."

On King Peter I Street people queued up to sign their names (together with addresses and identity numbers) on a petition demanding Milosevic's resignation. Dragan Mladicevic, a 63-year-old supporter of Djindjic's Democratic Party, complained that Draskovic should have joined earlier in calling for the president to go. But he, too, was in favour of last night's rival rally, saying: "Better late than never."

The reasons for discontent are many. As throughout Serbia, there is the disastrous state of the economy. In Kragujevac, things are particularly bad following the complete closure of the once-mighty factory that produced Yugo cars. Reservists are angry that they have not been paid for risking their lives in Kosovo. Serb refugees fleeing from Kosovo are another huge humanitarian and political problem. Around 15,000 have arrived in Kragujevac in recent weeks - some of the 100,000 now scattered across the republic. Some are staying with friends or relatives, but thousands more are packed into local schools and public halls.