Army chief stands by Milosevic

Click to follow

The head of the Yugoslav army has pledged support to Slobodan Milosevic hours after Serbian police abandoned their posts after confronting striking miners.

The head of the Yugoslav army has pledged support to Slobodan Milosevic hours after Serbian police abandoned their posts after confronting striking miners.

General Nabojsa Pavkovic vowed to stand by President Milosevic in the run up to Sunday's election run-off.

It followed opposition leaders' cries of victory after police failed to stop strikers at the Kolubara mine complex.

Opposition leaders have issued an ultimatum for Milosevic to resign by 3pm (1300 GMT) tomorrow - the time set for a large rally in the capital Belgrade to demand he accept election defeat.

"The battle for Serbia was won here," cried jubilant opposition leader, Dragan Kovacevic, at the mine.

The stunning and swift turn of events was unprecedented in a former communist nation with no history of major worker uprisings.

It caught even top opposition figures off guard.

They rushed to join more than 10,000 protesters at Kolubara and openly predicted Milosevic's quick demise.

Meanwhile, the UN said Milosevic may face more war crimes indictments in addition to the one filed against him by the international tribunal last year.

Milosevic was indicted last year by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague for atrocities committed by his forces in Kosovo.

However, he has never been charged with any offenses allegedly committed during other Balkan conflicts.

Tribunal investigators have been gathering evidence of atrocities committed during wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and "it is highly likely that indictments will be coming out in respect of those later this year or early next year," deputy tribunal prosecutor Graham Blewitt said.

In Yugoslavia, the opposition is boycotting the run-off, claiming challenger Vojislav Kostunica was the outright winner of lat month's elections and Milosevic rigged the results to force a second round.

"Serbia has risen so that one man would leave," Kostunica told cheering workers and their supporters at Kolubara, near Lazarevac, about 25 miles south of Belgrade.

Only hours before, police in riot gear had occupied the strip mine complex in an attempt to break up the largest of the nationwide strikes against Milosevic.

But the police could not contain a swelling crowd who heeded the workers' cry for help.

With sunset approaching, the police gave up.

Most withdrew from their barricades and were mingling with strikers inside the compound.

Supporters streamed in on foot and in convoys of vehicles. One bus pushed aside a police car blocking its way.

A few police remained guarding some areas of the mine, but made no attempt to control the joyous crowd.

From the beginning of the civil disobedience campaign, the mine was a pivitol point. It employs 7,000 workers and supplies major power plants.

The Milosevic government threatened "special measures" against leaders of strikes and road blockades.

Yesterday, Belgrade's prosecutor issued arrest orders for 13 opposition leaders involved in organizing a walkout at the Kolubara mine. None of the arrests have been carried out.

The mine walkout was the forerunner of other strikes: the state telecommunications company workers announced they would stay off the job and city bus drivers and garbage collectors in Belgrade refused to work.

The opposition has accused Milosevic of massive fraud in the election and has sought to prove the allegations before Yugoslavia's Constitutional Court.

The tribunal met in emergency session today to hear claims by the 18-party opposition coalition that Milosevic's cronies manipulated election results by using a sophisticated software program.

Opposition leaders said they had obtained a copy of the program and would use it to illustrate how the vote was rigged to favor Milosevic's candidacy.

But the court is full of Milosevic loyalists and has rendered a number of controversial verdicts.

Information Minister Goran Matic claimed the opposition "committed electoral fraud" and was now trying to provoke violence by "discrediting and denying the validity of the result."

The government is pushing ahead with plans for the run-off, where voters will mark paper ballots containing the names of Milosevic and Kostunica.

The opposition insist it is pointless to participate because Milosevic will simply cheat again.

In July, the Milosevic-controlled parliament changed the constitution, removing any requirement for a minimum voter turnout.

There were also signs that Milosevic's control over the media, until now the principal propaganda pillar of his regime, was fraying.

The main state-run daily in the northern province of Vojvodina declared that its editorial policy would switch from following the government line to objectively reporting on events.

Today's edition for the first time carried numerous reports on opposition activities. In an interview published in Moscow's Komersant daily, Kostunica said he believed Milosevic was preparing to use force against the protesters and strikers.

"He experiences no moral dilemma or torments of the soul about that," Kostunica said.

"However ... it is clear that he does not have enough force at present."

The student-run Otpor, or Resistance, opposition movement demanded that Kostunica be declared the electoral winner, that he assume command of the armed forces and start naming ambassadors to Western countries that have recognized his victory.