Milosevic accused of waging war on student activists

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A human rights report today accuses the government of the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, of intensifying a crackdown on dissent, singling out student activists among the latest targets.

Human Rights Watch identifies several methods of repression by the Serbian government since the Nato war a year ago. One is the so-called informative talk, actually a form of interrogation, used by police to intimidate student activists from the Otpor (Resistance) group.

Otpor, born in 1998 in reaction to repressive laws curbing media freedom and university autonomy, operates between the traditional Serbian opposition and Mr Milosevic's autocratic regime. Kristina Peric, a student at the Academy of Arts, told The Independent Otpor is "an alternative to the regime and the opposition, because people trust no one any more. The regime is notorious, the opposition barely united".

She added: "People trust us because we are an authentic generation that does not remember Tito's communism. We grew up in the times of Milosevic. This generation can bring something new."

Otpor calls for resistance - to the regime, to stupidity, violence, civil war or poverty. Children sport Otpor T-shirts. Actors of the National Theatre recently ended a play by taking off their costumes to show their Otpor T-shirts. The group claims 20,000 registered activists, aged 16 to 70. They distribute leaflets or badges and stage actions that mock the official picture of Serbia. Its platform includes a demand that Mr Milosevic step down, free elections, the rule of law and democracy, and co-operation with the United Nations war crimes court which has indicted the Yugoslav President.

With the opposition calling for early elections, 480,000 young voters have come of age since 1997. "We'll organise a 'get out and vote' campaign, because so many can turn the tide in favour of the opposition" said an activist, Milan Samardzic.

Since 1991, 300,000 young and educated Serbs have emigrated to the West. "They support and finance us," Ms Peric said. "They want to return to a different Serbia."

Milena Stevanovic, walking in Belgrade with her granddaughter, said: "Resistance? They are irresistible."