Defiant Kostunica vows to fight 'until last Serb'

With clenched fists and shouts of 'save us from this madhouse' 150,000 opposition supporters throng downtown Belgrade
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The Independent Online

In a massive show of defiance against President Slobodan Milosevic, more than 150,000 people filled a city centre square in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, on Wednesday night to show their support for the opposition presidential candidate, Vojislav Kostunica.

In a massive show of defiance against President Slobodan Milosevic, more than 150,000 people filled a city centre square in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, on Wednesday night to show their support for the opposition presidential candidate, Vojislav Kostunica.

The final pre-election rally for Mr Kostunica, of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), was notable for his down-to-earth words that struck a chord with many. "I am an ordinary man, like most of you. I don't want to change the world. My intention is to change this country with you," he told the cheering audience.

"We all want to live in an average country, where everything is average. Nothing like the past decade that brought us wars, refugees, isolation, sanctions, criminal Nato bombing. We want a state where the authorities will be afraid of the people, and where people will not be afraid of the regime, poverty and violence."

Their hands clenched into fists, the symbol of the popular student movement Otpor (Resistance), thousands responded with "Save Serbia from this madhouse, Kostunica".Many people wore Otpor shirts or others that said: "We're stronger" or "There's a way out". Women's groups gave away aprons with the inscription "It's time to clean up Serbia". Many people carried simple flyers that said "He's [Milosevic is] done".

Mr Kostunica described Yugoslavia as being "a hostage of a single man". "If I were this man, I'd step down, but Milosevic does not want to do so." To the crowd that booed whenever Mr Milosevic's name was mentioned, he added: "Our credo is people. Their credo is power. Power at all costs, until the last Serb."

Veterans of many anti-Milosevic protests could not recall such a civilised and dignified rally for the past decade. Pensioners had brought their grandchildren, young couples came with their babies. The police maintained a low-key presence and traffic was blocked from the streets around the parliament building.

Mr Kostunica had his only chance to appear on state controlled Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) on Wednesday. Under the electoral law, he was allocated a one-hour slot. He walked the few hundred yards from RTS to the rally. Witnesses said the building echoed with the applause of the employees, who cheered Mr Kostunica as he left. "Something like that has never happened before," an RTS employee said.

As the crowds peacefully dispersed after the rally, Ivana Stajic, 20, a Belgrade student said: "I hope Kostunica wins. For years now, I have known only Milosevic. I don't know what it feels like to start the day without thinking of him and the problems he brought us."

However, some expressed doubts. "It doesn't matter if Kostunica wins here ... Many outside Serbia support Milosevic ... he suits many," one middle-aged man said.

Opinion surveys show Mr Kostunica holding a significant lead against Mr Milosevic. Fears are mounting that the President would not concede a loss and could try to stay in power by rigging the vote or imposing martial law.

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