Beatings fail to halt Belgrade protesters

Belgrade - Undaunted by police beatings, opponents of the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, took to the streets in protest again yesterday, following clashes on Christmas Eve between pro- and anti-Milosevic crowds.

Five were hospitalised, including one man who remained in a critical condition after being shot in the head during the disturbances by a supporter of Mr Milosevic's ruling Socialist party (SPS).

More than a month of street protests against Mr Milosevic had gone without violence until Tuesday, when the SPS arranged to bus supporters into Belgrade for a rally at the same time and place as the opposition.

Vuk Draskovic, leader of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement, said Tuesday's events let the genie of violence out of the bottle and marked "the beginning of civil war in Belgrade".

The harder Mr Milosevic tries to shore up the credibility of his SPS as a party ruling Serbia by popular consent, the more events conspire to prove him wrong.

Another figleaf was peeled away when Mr Milosevic's party rallied only 40,000 supporters in Belgrade under police protection on Tuesday, after boasting it would mobilise half a million.

Snow, bitter temperatures, icy streets and the memory of Tuesday's running battles yesterday did little to dampen the students' enthusiasm, although their numbers were down substantially from the 200,000 who demonstrated on the previous day. In Serbia, Christmas is celebrated on 6 January.

Blowing whistles and horns and chanting anti-Milosevic slogans, protesters snaked through the centre of the city, drawing waves and cheers of support from many onlookers in office and residential blocks along the way.

Washington and Paris warned that they held Mr Milosevic responsible for Belgrade's street violence. The German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, said any more violence would damage Serbia's efforts to reintegrate with Europe. Western governments spent much of the last year praising Mr Milosevic as a responsible world leader for his work in support of the Bosnian peace agreement.

Still firmly in control of all institutions of government, including state television, the army and police, Mr Milosevic shows no sign of surrendering power voluntarily.

Diplomats say Russia would probably block any effort by the UN Security Council to pressure Mr Milosevic by reimposing economic sanctions on Serbia, which were lifted earlier this year in the wake of the Bosnia peace deal.

His ability to use force now has been virtually vetoed by US-led Western threats of reprisals and also by hints of reluctance on the part of the security forces to get too involved.

Monitors listening to police radios during the clashes on Tuesday heard commanders ordering their men to use minimum force, even when they or SPS supporters were taking a beating from opposition activists of the Zajedno (Together) movement.

Like everyone else who works for the Serbian state, the police are paid only when the government can find the cash and therefore have less interest in preserving it. The army, which used tanks to save Mr Milosevic and quell anti-government protests that cost two lives in 1991, has stayed silently on the sidelines in 1996.

The idea that the SPS might ditch Mr Milosevic rests on the theory that the thousands of party members who hold every worthwhile job in the state apparatus and the economy have too much to lose to relinquish power.

Their wealth has been milked from the labour and looted from the bank accounts of ordinary Serbs, as Zajedno never tires of telling its supporters.

Out of power, they would be held accountable for the destruction of former Yugoslavia and the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, which have reduced Serbia's people to economic ruin.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Angel Di Maria is shown the red card
tech
Sport
Roger Federer after his win over Tomas Berdych
sport
Life and Style
News in briefs: big pants in 'Bridget Jones's Diary'
fashionBig knickers are back
Sport
James Milner is set to sign for Liverpool this week despite rival interest from Arsenal
sportReds baulk at Benteke £32.5m release clause
News
The controversial Motor Neurone Disease Association poster, featuring sufferer Michael Smith, has drawn a series of angry complaints
newsThis one has been criticised for its 'threatening tone'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Recruitment Genius: European Sales Director - Aerospace Cable & Wire

£100000 - £125000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Project Manager

£17100 - £22900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an intermediate help de...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral