Arrests as Milosevic tries to break strike

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The Independent Online

Slobodan Milosevic's police have entered a major coal mine south of Belgrade to break up one of the biggest strikes launched so far to drive the Yugoslav president from power.

Slobodan Milosevic's police have entered a major coal mine south of Belgrade to break up one of the biggest strikes launched so far to drive the Yugoslav president from power.

Truckloads of police and soldiers have entered the Kolubara mine, which employs 7,000 workers, complex to break up a five-day strike which the government said threatened electricity supplies, according to a local news agency.

A striker who answered the telephone at the facility said miners were refusing to leave the compound.

It is believed a number of arrests have been made.

Strike leader Predgrag Stefanovic has asked residents of nearby towns "to come and help us."

Yesterday, Belgrade's prosecutor issued arrest orders for 13 opposition leaders involved in organizing a walkout at the Kolubara coal mine - the largest of hundreds of work stoppages nationwide.

The strikebreakers are believed to have come in from Kosovo, where many miners are out of work since NATO and the United Nations took over the province last year.

The action came a day after the Milosevic government threatened "special measures" against leaders of strikes and road blockades, which were launched this week to force the Yugoslav president to concede defeat to challenger Vojislav Kostunica in the September 24 election.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria's foreign minister urged Milosevic to step down and clear the way for democracy in his country, saying it was time for change.

At this moment it is crystal clear that Serbia can no longer remain unchanged," Nadezhda Mihailova said Wednesday at a meeting of the Stability Pact on regional security. "Changes can be delayed, but cannot be halted."

"Refusing to accept the results of the vote, Milosevic disregards the choice of his own people, places himself above the law and democratic order and pushes the country toward violence," she added.

Milosevic concedes that Kostunica outpolled him in the five-candidate race but fell short of an absolute majority. A run-off is set for Sunday but the opposition has called for a boycott. Earlier, police arrested several truck drivers blocking roads in Milosevic's hometown Pozarevac about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Belgrade.

The opposition has accused Milosevic of massive fraud in the Sept. 24 election and on Wednesday sought to prove the allegations before Yugoslavia's Constitutional Court. The tribunal met in emergency session 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.

With dozens of road blocks in place for the third day, police have attempted to clear roads in some areas but have so far refrained from using force.

In Pozarevac, tensions grew after police arrested several truckers whose vehicles were blocking a road. Dozens of people subsequently sat down on the pavement, strengthening the blockade.

There were further 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 on Wednesday that its editorial policy would switch from blindly following the government line to reporting events objectively. Its Wednesday edition carried numerous reports on opposition activities.

In Belgrade, where the civil disobedience campaign has been less noticeable than in smaller cities, there were signs Wednesday that more people were joining the opposition protest campaign.

Hundreds of stores were closed and city bus drivers and garbage collectors stayed off the job, leaving overflowing trash containers scattered in the streets. Even Belgrade's telephone directory assistance stopped work Wednesday.

The postal service announced a warning strike for later in the day, and by noon, the city core was effectively put off limits to cars and other vehicles by thousands of pedestrians roaming the streets and blocking traffic.