Rival camps battle at Belgrade match

Click to follow

A riot by Yugoslav soccer fans forced the Belgrade derby match between Red Star and Partizan to be abandoned yesterday after just three minutes of play. The fixture has a history of fan violence but the latest trouble at Red Star Stadium appeared to be connected to the political situation in the aftermath of president Slobodan Milosevic's downfall.

A riot by Yugoslav soccer fans forced the Belgrade derby match between Red Star and Partizan to be abandoned yesterday after just three minutes of play. The fixture has a history of fan violence but the latest trouble at Red Star Stadium appeared to be connected to the political situation in the aftermath of president Slobodan Milosevic's downfall.

Around 40 people were injured in the mayhem, one seriously, hospitals said.

Shortly before the trouble began, fans in the Partizan section had been chanting for the resignation of the club's directors, who are closely identified with Mr Milosevic. Some then threw fireworks on the pitch and into other sections of the crowd, and ripped up plastic seats and lobbed them towards the field.

Hundreds of Red Star fans then broke out of their end of the ground and streamed across the pitch to confront the Partizan supporters, some of whom had broken out of their section. Rival groups came to blows on the pitch. The players tried to leave the field but fans attacked several of them.

Partizan fans chanted "Management get out!" while Red Star supporters, many of whom were in the vanguard of opposition efforts to oust Mr Milosevic, unfurled a red-and-white banner proclaiming: "The sun of freedom rises on our victory".

Partizan has traditional links to the Yugoslav military and its chairman is Mirko Marjanovic, Serbian Prime Minister and a Milosevic ally who has so far resisted calls to quit.

"Mirko to jail, Partizan to the second division," read another banner in the Red Star section. "Red Star supporters were after us and the Red Star players helped us to escape with only minor injuries," said Partizan captain Sasa Ilic. "The physical damage is insignificant. We suffered more psychologically."

Helmeted riot police eventually intervened to curb the worst of the violence and everyone in the Partizan section retreated to the exits and left the ground.

Though Belgrade's disturbances on the streets may be over, but in Serbia, other revolutions are still on. President Vojislav Kostunica is being toasted by EU leaders in Biarritz, but his allies at home are trying to prise Mr Milosevic's cronies from the powerful positions they are clinging to.

But former allies of Mr Milosevic appear increasingly keen to ditch him. His picture has disappeared from his Socialist Party of Serbia's website. The Glas Javnosti daily newspaper reported yesterday that the Belgrade branch of the Party of Serbia had sent Mr Milosevic a letter "asking for changes in the party leadership", and saying "state bodies and a part of the party leadership either made improper decisions or betrayed the party".

Some here say the deposed president skulks in his Belgrade villa using what influence he has left to ensure the transfer of power is as difficult as possible, ordering his allies to delay their departure from positions of influence. Perhaps worrying for Mr Kostunica is that much of the State Security, the hated secret police, appears to remain faithful to Mr Milosevic.

Rade Markovic, chief of the murky organisation, has pointedly neglected to recognise Mr Kostunica as the new president, and a lieutenant-colonel who went over to the Kostunica side says the force is still briefing Mr Milosevic on every development.

But the regular police have joined Mr Kostunica in their droves. Some helped to storm parliament, and when Mr Marjanovic ordered them to regain control of television and other state institutions last week, they ignored him, and he had to return to the negotiating table.

Talks to prise Mr Marjanovic and his colleagues out of power continued into the early hours yesterday. Technically, the government of Serbia - the larger of Yugoslavia's two remaining republics - is still in office, as the elections that swept Mr Milosevic aside were on a federal level. Last week, it backed out of a deal for Serbian elections on 24 December. Mr Kostunica's allies appear to have agreed to the inclusion of a socialist prime minister in the transitional government that will rule until elections take place.

But the state's industrial workers have held their own revolutions in state-owned companies across Serbia to eject Mr Milosevic's cronies. They are at the helm of huge conglomerates, invoking workers' committee legislation left over from the days of Marshal Tito. In many firms, Mr Milosevic's men are resigning. But workers had to storm their own offices at the Progress import/export plant, when the chairman of the board refused to resign and attempted to have them barred from the building.

With the people, army and police behind him, Mr Kostunica looks safe from any challenge by Mr Milosevic or the socialists. But enemies are not his only worry - he has said he is getting almost as much trouble "from my friends".

The Chief of Staff, Nebojsa Pavkovic, tainted by his close alliance with Mr Milosevic, is trying to ingratiate himself with the new president. But as he does so, a row is simmering between Mr Kostunica and Zoran Djindjic, the Serbian kingmaker, who wants Mr Pavkovic to be replaced with his own man.

Comments