Opposition stronghold jubilant in isolation

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The Independent Online

Waiters served free food on the street and a festive mood gripped this opposition stronghold in central Serbia on the second day of its self-imposed isolation - a blockade meant to drive President Slobodan Milosevic from power.

Waiters served free food on the street and a festive mood gripped this opposition stronghold in central Serbia on the second day of its self-imposed isolation - a blockade meant to drive President Slobodan Milosevic from power.

Roadblocks around Cacak, 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Belgrade, remained impenetrable on Tuesday, with at least 170 trucks blocking all access.

Meanwhile, inside the town, some 7,000 people rallied at the city's main square to hear speeches by opposition activists who repeated their determination to boycott a new round of elections declared by Milosevic's officials, in an effort to have him retain the presidency.

The opposition says Vojislav Kostunica won last month's presidential elections outright, while Milosevic's backers claim that - although Kostunica led after the first round - a second round on Sunday is needed because neither he nor Milosevic got more than 50 percent of the vote Sept. 24.

"We are defiant. City hall decided that there will be no runoff, no ballot boxes, no voters, no elections, nothing at all," declared Mile Kandic, the town's deputy mayor.

Only bakeries, pharmacies, the local hospital and a funeral home remained open as a general strike gripped the industrial town of some 80,000 people.

Most shops were shuttered, displaying banners reading "Closed due to Robbery," a reference to opposition claims that Milosevic has refused to acknowledge Kostunica's victory.

Restaurateur Milan Kukic, who backs demands for Milosevic to step down, opened up his establishment and served free drinks and snacks to all comers. The crowd quickly spilled out on the street, blocking the thoroughfare.

"Everyone who wants can eat as much as they want," Kukic said. "My restaurant will work like this until they recognize our electoral will."

After the opposition rally, the town center emptied quickly. As evening approached, the streets were deserted.

"It is a full-scale protest," said Milena Djokic, a housewife. "Not even walking on the street is permitted."

Cacak, whose industries were badly hit during NATO bombing of Serbia last year, has emerged as a focal point in the campaign of civil disobedience that began after the inconclusive elections results were announced.

At a highway blockade outside town, truckers said they were prepared to resist any attempt by police to open up the main highway.

During the night they received a tip that a police unit might try to break the blockade. Local radio and a TV stations were alerted, but the warning turned out to be a hoax.

"We have developed tactics on how to resist them, we have our own reconnaissance and communications centers," said Milun Kuzmanovic, a leader of the truckers.

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