Mayor planned storming of Parliament with police defector friends

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The Independent Online

The extraordinary events that brought about the fall of Slobodan Milosevic last week were plannedwith defectors from élite Serbian police units, the opposition mayor who led the storming of parliament said yesterday.

The extraordinary events that brought about the fall of Slobodan Milosevic last week were plannedwith defectors from élite Serbian police units, the opposition mayor who led the storming of parliament said yesterday.

The apparently spontaneous capture of the Yugoslav Parliament and state television were the result of a carefully planned strategy, said Velja Ilijc, mayor of Cacak, an opposition stronghold.

Extraordinary scenes as riot police threw off their helmets and joined protesters were planned gestures designed to break police lines, he said.

As the mayor told the story of the Serbian revolution, one of his party aides sat and played with an unused AK47 round captured from hardline police who fired on Mr Ilijc and the other protesters. A bouquet of flowers on the mayor's desk bore the message: "Thank you for what you have done, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you."

At 7.30am on Thursday, a huge column of protesters set off from Cacak for Belgrade, led by Mr Ilijc. Most were farmers and working men, but among them, said Mr Ilijc, were Yugoslav army paratroops and plainclothes police defectors. As they left, the mayor told them: "Victory or death."

They broke through five police blockades on the way to Belgrade, pushing into the ditch the trucks police had used to block roads. As they marched, they were joined by others from towns along the way. When the column reached Belgrade there were 10,000 of them. It was they who led the storming of Parliament and state television with a bulldozer they brought from Cacak. Their targets were carefully selected.Losing control of the media was a fatal blow to Mr Milosevic. "We were sick of watching state television," said Mr Ilijc, the image of a Serbian macho man lounging in the mayor's office in his tracksuit."We got fed up with living in Milosevic's Serbia. I planned it all with my buddies. It is Cacak's humble contribution."

The mayor says he coordinated Thursday's event with just four other people: two police officers from an élite unit based in Belgrade and two officers from Cacak. At 3.30pm, a time agreed in advance, the police defectors broke police lines, opening the protesters' path to Parliament.

The protest even had assistance from plainclothes police on the way to Belgrade, who tried to persuade police to abandon roadblocks. "I had trouble telling some people not to attack those officers," laughed the mayor. "I kept saying, 'Wait, they are going to come over to our side'."

The mayor insists that although it was his protesters who broke into Parliament they were not responsible for the fire started in the building.

As they forced their way into the building, he says he introduced some of them to the opposition leader, Zoran Djindjic. "I told him, 'You should thank these guys'," he said. He did not tell the opposition of his plan to storm Parliament, but said he did co-ordinate with the Otpor student resistance movement and fans of Belgrade's Red Star football team.

Mr Ilijc has long been a die-hard opposition figure. He fled Cacak to hide in mountains for 43 days during last year's Nato bombardment after he was accused of betraying his country by the Milosevic regime. When he returned he was greeted as a hero.

"We got sick of the way the opposition was going," he said. "It was useless. We'd march, criticise Milosevic and then everybody went home and he was still there. We decided, 'We are men, let's do it"."

He was unsure at first whether he could trust his police contacts. "The test was the miners' strike," he said. On Tuesday night, police tried to break an anti-Milosevic miners' strike at Kolubara. "My police contacts called me and said that they had been ordered to attack the miners," Mr Ilijc said. "They told me to get more people over there." The police attack failed.

He insists now is not the time for complacency. "Milosevic is still very dangerous," he said."It is sickening to see these politicians already squabbling over who will be Prime Minister and ministers. We didn't do it to become ministers and I warn them, if they don't get things right we will march on them as well."

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