Take to the streets, Milosevic opponents urged

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Slobodan Milosevic's opponents appealed to Belgraders to pour out into the streets Wednesday, pledging to defend their apparent victory in presidential elections despite efforts by the regime to engineer a runoff. Opposition activists distributed 10,000 baby rattles in downtown Belgrade, calling on people to attend a mass evening rally and remind Milosevic that he was "busted" by shaking the toys. On Tuesday, Milosevic defied international and domestic appeals for him to step down and announced a runoff election against opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica, who in turn, insisted he won the election outright and rejected the possibility of a new race. By midmorning, workers hurried to erect a stage and speakers for the rally in front of the federal parliament building, which is also the seat of the State Election Commission. "We are talking about political fraud and blatant stealing of votes," Kostunica said in a statement sent to The Associated Press on Tuesday. "This is an offer which must be reje

Slobodan Milosevic's opponents appealed to Belgraders to pour out into the streets Wednesday, pledging to defend their apparent victory in presidential elections despite efforts by the regime to engineer a runoff. Opposition activists distributed 10,000 baby rattles in downtown Belgrade, calling on people to attend a mass evening rally and remind Milosevic that he was "busted" by shaking the toys. On Tuesday, Milosevic defied international and domestic appeals for him to step down and announced a runoff election against opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica, who in turn, insisted he won the election outright and rejected the possibility of a new race. By midmorning, workers hurried to erect a stage and speakers for the rally in front of the federal parliament building, which is also the seat of the State Election Commission. "We are talking about political fraud and blatant stealing of votes," Kostunica said in a statement sent to The Associated Press on Tuesday. "This is an offer which must be rejected." Kostunica said the opposition would defend its obvious victory but avoid "careless moves which could raise tensions in society, which could lead to unforeseeable consequences." Opposition leaders demanded the chance to inspect the election commission's returns which they claim is short of 400,000 pro-Kostunica votes. In its first announcement after the Sunday vote, the commission reported that Kostunica finished first with 48.22 percent while Milosevic earned 40.23 percent. Under Yugoslav law, a runoff is required since none of the candidates received more than 50 percent. It was set for Oct. 8. State television said the turnout was 64 percent, far below the 74 percent figure given by the opposition. The runoff announcement came despite growing international calls for Milosevic to accept an opposition victory. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook agreed Wednesday that there was no point in holding a runoff in Yugoslavia, declaring that "Milosevic is beaten." "All that is necessary is for Milosevic to get out of the way. He has been knocked out, he has now been counted out, now he should get out," Cook said while in Brighton, England where he was attending the Labor Party conference. U.S. President Bill Clinton, during a foreign policy address at Georgetown University on Tuesday, also insisted the will of the people must be respected, as a precondition necessary for "doors to Europe and the world" to reopen for Serbia. The United States also pledged to lead an international campaign to pressure Milosevic into accepting the outcome. "Despite the government's attempts to manipulate the vote, it does seem clear that the people have voted for change," Clinton said. "The question is, will the government listen in response?" What began as celebrations of the opposition's overwhelming victory Tuesday night turned into protest rallies across Serbia as the news of the runoff filtered down. In the opposition-run central town of Cacak, about 20,000 people booed the runoff announcement. "There will be no runoff and if they don't know math, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia will teach them," Cacak's Mayor Velimir Ilic told the cheering crowd. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe urged the immediate publication of election results, citing its sources in Belgrade as saying that the commission's results were released "in a highly suspicious manner" The commission's chairman "pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, and without any deliberation in the commission, announced that Slobodan Milosevic had won" the runoff, said a statement Tuesday by Gerard Stoudmann, an OSCE official on human rights. A runoff would give Milosevic time to maneuver, create more favorable conditions for himself, clamp down on opposition media and activists and resume his nationalist campaign portraying Kostunica as a "NATO lackey and Western stooge." Kostunica, a dour law professor who surprised Milosevic with his widespread appeal, tried to cut off the Yugoslav strongman's means of escape, declaring that there was "no single reason, not moral or political, by which we would accept such trampling on the electoral will of the citizens." (av/kk/djk)

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