'One world is coming to an end. Our lives have a new beginning'

On The Streets
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The Independent Online

Belgrade was a city in triumph last night. Brass bands played in the streets, and drivers sounded their horns as they weaved their way through the exuberant crowds, many thousands strong, preparing to spend the night revelling in their victory over Mr Milosevic and his tyranny.

Belgrade was a city in triumph last night. Brass bands played in the streets, and drivers sounded their horns as they weaved their way through the exuberant crowds, many thousands strong, preparing to spend the night revelling in their victory over Mr Milosevic and his tyranny.

There was no fear, only relief and a lot of excitement, as groups of people retold the momentous events of a day that will mark their lives forever.

In their words and in the feelings of many, Slobodan Milosevic is history. Because Belgrade is Serbia, and the better part of Serbia was in Belgrade yesterday.

The Serbian people wanted to prove, once and for all, that they knew, despite all the lies thrown in their faces, that Vojislav Kostunica was the man they had elected for president.

By mid-afternoon, the square in front of the federal parliament building was packed with more than 200,000 people. But still thousands kept coming - from all possible directions, from all the nearby parks, alleys and small streets. They had heard that Mr Kostunica was to address the rally.

During my five-block walk to the square, I met friends, neighbours, and local shopkeepers. Their shops were closed, everyone was rushing to the rally.

At the packed square, there were islands of parked buses, with registration plates from all over Serbia. Young people sat on top, chanting: "Save Serbia, and kill yourself Slobodan." Some were in trees, waving Serbian flags. A military helicopter flew over our heads.

Zarko Korac, one of the opposition leaders, told me he was afraid of what the regime might do. "Could they go against all these people?" he asked. I was not sure about my answer. We promised to meet after the rally.

I tried to move further through the crowd, I heard shots from the direction of the entrance to the parliament, where waves of people were climbing the wide stairs. White smoke! In a matter of seconds, a stampede began in all directions. Burning in the throat, mouth, eyes - tear gas everywhere.

Gathering my courage in a nearby street, crying my eyes out, I heard a cacophony of voices and ran for safety.

Thirty or 40 minutes later, I was back in the same place. A ground floor curtain seemed to be on fire. Was the parliament burning? The glass in the main door was smashed, apparently by hurled stones. I heard people say that the police had withdrawn through the back door and left.

On Takovska Street, next to the parliament building, and close to the headquarters of the notorious Radio Television of Serbia (RTS), it looked as if a mechanical digger was heading down the hill. There was no way through there; it looked too dangerous, people were running down the street, after the excavator. Shots rang out and I hurried home.

There, listening to Radio Index, I heard that the RTS building had been set on fire by protesters.

I went back into the street. Close by, I met a fellow journalist, his eyes red with tear gas and wide in disbelief.

The police have left RTS through the back door, he said. The building is empty, two floors are on fire ... Protesters met the police in the back alley. Some policemen held their hands up, others took their helmets and bulletproof vests off ... They all unloaded their weapons.

Women had been crying, my colleague said. Policemen told them "Don't worry ... we won't go against you. You're our own people."

Back home, again, it was still only 5.15pm ... Within another 15 minutes, all three state-controlled television channels were off the air. New faces appeared on the notorious TV Politika, saying "This is the liberated TV Politika". A familiar face appeared on another channel, Studio BTV, saying: "We call on all our old colleagues to come here and join us in making free programmes."

The phone rang and a friend told me that Radio B92, a victim of the Milosevic regime, was back on the air as an independent station. I could hardly believe my eyes and ears.

On my television screen I saw the words "This is the programme of the new Radio Television of Serbia. Please be patient until we start the transmission".

We had expected this day to come, yet it all seemed shockingly quick. In the space of a few short hours, our lives were about to begin afresh.

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