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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project