Serbians urged to release Draskovic: French and Greek leaders appeal to Milosevic

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BELGRADE (Agencies) - President Francois Mitterrand of France yesterday joined Greece's Prime Minister, Constantine Mitsotakis, in urging Serbia to release the opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, arrested and beaten after a huge anti-government demonstration. Leading Serbian intellectuals and lawyers also called for the release of Mr Draskovic and warned that tempers were boiling among his supporters.

Mr Draskovic and his wife, Danica, were arrested early last Wednesday after the biggest demonstrations in Belgrade since war broke out in the former Yugoslav republics nearly two years ago. A policeman was killed and more than 30 other people were injured in the protests against the ousting of the moderate Yugoslav President, Dobrica Cosic, by supporters of Slobodan Milosevic and the ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj in parliament.

Mr Draskovic and his wife face up to 15 years in jail each on charges of disrupting public order and violent attack on the constitutional order of Serb-led Yugoslavia.

In a letter yesterday to Mr Milosevic, Mr Mitterrand asked for freedom for Mr Draskovic and his wife, saying their detentions 'raise a strong emotion in France'.

Mr Mitsotakis, in a statement, urged Mr Milosevic to work personally for Mr Draskovic's release. Greece and Serbia are traditional allies because of historic and religious affinities, and Mr Mitsotakis has been the most sympathetic to Serbia and Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia among leaders of Nato countries. Mr Mitsotakis said that Mr Draskovic's imprisonment 'jeopardised the positive impressions . . . created lately in the international community regarding new Yugoslavia'.

In Serbia, officials of Mr Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement warned that outraged party members were being kept under control 'only with the utmost effort'. A ban on the party, as suggested by Serbian legal officials, would result in 'unforeseeable consequences', it said.

A group of 15 lawyers defending Mr Draskovic announced it was filing charges against the Serbian police force for the severe beating of Mr Draskovic and his wife.

In Bosnia, fighting flared in Srebrenica, a UN-declared 'safe area' in the east of the republic, and was continuing in Gorazde, another besieged Muslim enclave, Radio Sarajevo reported, citing ham radio operators.

Srebrenica authorities said that if the UN Protection Force could not protect them, 'they should say that openly and give us our weapons back, because if we are to die, we do not want to die as cowards', the ham radio operator said.

UN officials acknowledged that they were at the mercy of Serbian forces in fruitless efforts to reach Goradze. A ham radio report from Gorazde, said early yesterday: 'The offensive is still going on.'