Milosevic stands firm and slams opponents

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The Independent Online

Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic has attacked his political opponents as Western lackeys who would lead the country into wars and poverty, while claiming his rule guarantees peace and prosperity.

Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic has attacked his political opponents as Western lackeys who would lead the country into wars and poverty, while claiming his rule guarantees peace and prosperity.

In a 15-minute TV address to the nation, Milosevic said if the opposition came to power "Yugoslavia would inevitably break up."

"Our policy guarantees peace, while theirs clashes and hostility," Milosevic said, adding that all those opposition plans are initiated by NATO and Western countries.

"I though it was my task to warn the people of the consequences."

He said he was warning the people because of his "conscience."

Speaking on the day the opposition launched nationwide strikes to force Milosevic to step down, the Yugoslav leader said his opponents "doubt they can have the result they want" and are resorting to "bribing, blackmailing with the money" from the West to organize "strikes and bring the country to a standstill".

Milosevic warned that as "a sovereign country," Yugoslavia "has its laws" which will be applied to protect it from a Western "invasion." Milosevic did not announce any new measures or crackdown.

He concluded: "My conscience would not be clear if I didn't tell the people what I think."

Meanwhile, truck and taxi drivers blockaded roads and bridges, students stayed home and factories closed throughout Yugoslavia on Monday as opposition forces launched a drive to force President Slobodan Milosevic from office.

The protests represented the most extensive strikes ever waged against Milosevic. No corner of the country was untouched. Participation appeared strongest in the industrial heartland south of Belgrade, where the government's failure to extinguish independent media permitted the opposition to coordinate actions.

Protests were less effective in Belgrade, where steady rain and lack of an independent media may have discouraged people from going to the streets.

"I don't like to use the word revolution but what is happening now is a revolution - a peaceful, nonviolent, wise, civilized, quiet and smart democratic revolution," election challenger Vojislav Kostunica said.

"People are ready to start building a new country."

Less than a week remains before Sunday's scheduled run-off elections. Milosevic says Kostunica failed to achieve an outright victory in last month's elections and a second round is needed. The opposition, backed by the West, insists Milosevic rigged the voting.

Russia has resisted Western pressure to call on Milosevic to concede electoral defeat, but President Vladimir Putin said he was willing to mediate between the Yugoslav president and his challenger.

In a sign that Moscow was not yet prepared to abandon Milosevic, Putin said he was willing to receive both the Yugoslav president and Kostunica in Moscow before he left Monday for a four-day visit to India.

Road blockades snarled traffic on one bridge in Yugoslavia's capital, Belgrade, for about three hours, while city transit workers staged a two-hour walkout.

At one intersection in the capital, protesters stood in pouring rain to link hands and form a human chain after police broke up a blockade of four trucks at Vuk Karadzic Square.

"We'll remain here as long as possible. We have no other option until Milosevic leaves power voluntarily," said Nebojsa Zdravkovic, a teacher. "If they want to use force against us, let them."

The opposition Democratic Opposition of Serbia said traffic blockades in Belgrade were over, but would continue tomorrow for five hours and all Wednesday if Milosevic doesn't recognize his electoral defeat by then. Milosevic has so far held the military and police in check.

There were fears, however, he could be running out of options as some vital industries, such as coal mines, join the opposition ranks.

The independent Beta news agency reported that 500 policemen entered the Kolubara mine, the nation's largest, late Sunday.

The action could be at attempt to thwart sabotage at the mine, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Belgrade, where thousands of workers have walked out.

The state power company threatened power outages Monday unless the Kolubara mine revives its coal production, a sign of growing pressure on some 7,000 striking workers of one of Yugoslavia's biggest mines.

A close Milosevic supporter, Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, accused opposition groups of seeking "chaos, clashes and unrest."

The republics of Serbia and Western-oriented Montenegro comprise what remains of Yugoslavia.

"We are waging a battle" Velimir Ilic, the mayor of Cacak, told about 10,000 opposition supporters gathered at the main town square for an eighth consecutive day.

"If we lose, all we can expect is misery and poverty."

The blockade appeared stronger in cities and towns outside Belgrade, bringing life to a virtual standstill in the central and southern industrial heartland towns like Nis, Cacak, Pancevo and Uzice. In the north, some 40,000 people protested on the streets of Novi Sad.

A road blockade effectively sealed off the opposition-run town of Cacak in central Yugoslavia early Monday. By 5am, some 70 truck drivers completely jammed the road outside the industrial town of 80,000 people.

A local police patrol briefly attempted to take the license plate of one of the truckers in Cacak at around dawn. They found themselves outnumbered and surrounded, however, and quickly handed it back.

Taxi drivers in Cacak joined the truckers, some arriving at the blockade carrying supplies of bread and yogurt to drivers who had parked on the city outskirts.

In Nis, the third largest Yugoslav city and its main industrial zone, about 10,000 workers walked out from their jobs to demand Milosevic's ouster.

All shops and schools stopped work in the city and people gathered at the main downtown square. And in the southwestern town of Uzice, railway workers walked off the job and thousands industrial workers joined them, cutting off the country's main north-south railway link.

In Belgrade, Cedomir Jovanovic, the coalition's spokesman, reported several incidents caused by police at the blockades in the capital.

Four people were injured in a clash with police in Surcin, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the capital at a road junction.

Meanwhile, about 10,000 university and high school students rallied in one of the biggest anti-Milosevic student protests in the capital in nearly four years.

As protests expanded, however, tempers frayed. Some, like Milosava Jovanovic, 42, a saleswoman, lashed out at protesters blocking her path to her doctor's office in Belgrade.

"Get out of the way you good for nothings!" Jovanovic said. "Milosevic should use water cannons to clear them all out!"

Only essential public services were operating in several cities.