Milosevic turns back the clock as Belgrade mayor is toppled

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The Independent Online
Completing the Serbian opposition's reversal of fortune since it appeared to be on the brink of ousting Slobodan Milosevic last winter, the popular mayor of Belgrade has been forced from office, and the capital's television station has reverted to presidential control.

In a brutal finale to last winter's joyful protests against Slobodan Milosevic, the most popular protest leader was ousted yesterday as Belgrade mayor, and the democratic directors of the city's television station were axed.

The twin moves were a stunning consolidation of power by Mr Milosevic, ultranationalist allies and another leader of last winter's protests who abandoned his former partners in democracy.

The double blow undid all the gains in Serbia's capital of last winter's massive marches against Mr Milosevic. Then, he was forced by domestic and international pressure to let Zoran Djindjic become mayor of Belgrade - the first non-Communist in the post since the Second World War - and to cede control over the Studio B television.

Revenge was sudden. At a city council meeting yesterday morning, Mr Djindjic was voted out of office by 67 of the 68 deputies present. His own Democrats, and smaller parties, were not even present.

Mr Djindjic, the most popular of the trio who led last winter's massive protests, was undone by his former partner in democracy, Vuk Draskovic, whose party members teamed up with ultranationalists led by Vojislav Seselj and Mr Milosevic's neo-communists against the mayor.

The vote dealt a final blow to the biggest democratic challenge Mr Milosevic had faced in his autocratic decade in power - first as Communist leader of Serbia, then as elected Serbian president, and now, Yugoslav president.

Mr Djindjic said afterwards that he would not contest the vote, but joined Belgrade students - the driving force behind last winter's protests - in calling city residents out en masse last night to defend Studio B and its independence. Thousands answered the call, streaming into a central square with the distinctive deafening whistles that characterised last winter's protests.

"We will defend Studio B," Mr Djindjic said, calling the station "the eyes of Belgrade". But, hours after he spoke those words on Studio B, it fell under the control of Mr Milosevic and his allies, who swiftly reinstalled their old manager as the new boss.