40,000 Slavs on protest march rattle Milosevic government

FORTY THOUSAND people took to the streets of the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, this weekend in the biggest demonstration so far in the postwar wave of protests against the government of President Slobodan Milosevic.

The success of the march, on Saturday night, has breathed new life into the flagging opposition campaign. Demonstrators chanted slogans against the government, drawing in passers-by as they rallied in the streets, and protests were due to continue yesterday in Belgrade and other Serbian towns and cities.

But the number of demonstrators in Belgrade is still small compared with the huge mass protests of 1996 and 1997 and represents only a fraction of Belgrade's population of two million. Leaders of the Alliance for Change opposition grouping said they hoped the rallies would mark the beginning of the end for the Milosevic government.

"There are more and more people all the time", said Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party and leader of the Alliance for Change. "I'm sure there will be a culmination (of protests) by mid-October and that we'll achieve our goals by that time ... If we persist, we'll win."

In the face of a lukewarm response from the public, apparently bored with long speeches that preceded a march through central Belgrade earlier in the week, Alliance leaders introduced a new scenario, with marches first, and speeches later.

Protests now start from the central Republic Square with a parade past key government buildings, where passers-by join in, and end with short speeches back at the Republic Square. Opposition activists are comparing the slow and gradual beginning of 1996-97 rallies with the beginning of this campaign.

Goran Svilanovic, an Alliance for Change leader, said: "We expect, in the days to come, more and more people to show up." Vladan Batic, another Alliance official, said: "There is no way back for us now ... We'll finish the job we started." But the biggest opposition party, Vuk Dras-kovic's Serbian Renewal Movement, is still withholding support for the rallies amid personal rivalries with the Alliance leaders.

Yugoslav authorities appear rattled by the continuing demonstrations, as the coverage in government-controlled media illustrates. The rallies are described as "small gatherings" and the umbrella group is branded "Nato's Alliance for Change".

n Sixteen mostly young people were injured in a hand grenade attack at a cafe in the southern Serbian town of Prokuplje early on Saturday.

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