Go now to avoid bloodshed, West tells Milosevic

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The Independent Online

As vast crowds of demonstrators threatened to take Belgrade by storm last night, the West urged President Slobodan Milosevic to respect the will of the Serbian people and step down to avoid unnecessaryviolence.

As vast crowds of demonstrators threatened to take Belgrade by storm last night, the West urged President Slobodan Milosevic to respect the will of the Serbian people and step down to avoid unnecessaryviolence.

In London, Washington, Paris and Berlin, the message yesterday was the same: it was time for Mr Milosevic to go, putting an end to 13 years of repression and war, and enabling what remains of the former Yugoslavia to rejoin the world.

As the protests spread, Western leaders could do no more than watch and hope. "People are trying to get their country back," the United States President, Bill Clinton, said, declaring that Mr Milosevic had lost the 24 September election outright and that yesterday's ruling by the constitutional court voiding it merely compounded the fraud.

Tony Blair was blunter: "Your time is up. Go now. Don't wait until there has been more death and destruction." From Berlin, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder pleaded with Mr Milosevic: "Don't resort to violence, don't shoot on your own people."

But everywhere, the sense was the same: that the world was watching the last act of the eastern European revolution that began in 1989. Only from Russia, Mr Milosevic's main sympathiser, was there silence, as officials tried to decide a reaction.

Behind the scenes, Western foreign ministers were planning for the post-Milosevic era. A meeting of Contact Group countries on the former Yugoslavia had been pencilled in for London, possibly as early as today.

Once Mr Milosevic is out of power, sanctions could be lifted quite swiftly. Monday's meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels is a first opportunity to lift European Union sanctions; those imposed by the US and United Nations are also likely to be removed.

Even yesterday, however, the West avoided explicitly taking sides with the opposition leader, Vojislav Kostunica, for fear of allowing Mr Milosevic to label his rival a traitorous stooge of Nato.

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