Liberation of Kosovo: Serbs call for end of Milosevic regime

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AT LEAST 10,000 protesters gathered in the central Serbian town of Cacak yesterday, demanding an end to the rule of Slobodan Milosevic.

Demonstrators defied police warnings that the rally was unauthorised, in another sign that support for the Yugoslav president is dropping in the aftermath of Belgrade's catastrophic struggle with Nato. Leaders of the Alliance for Change, the umbrella group that called the protest, said Serbia's defeat had demoralised Mr Milosevic's ruling Socialists and their ultra-nationalist allies.

"They are afraid of us because we are coming and they are going," said Goran Svilanovic, head of the Civic Alliance. "We are demanding the end of dictatorship and freedom for Serbia." Velimir Ilic, the mayor of Cacak who went into hiding throughout the conflict with Nato for his anti-war statements, said Mr Milosevic's government had "made Serbia ashamed of its own name. They made us into monsters and God punished us." Vuk Obradovic, a former general, said the "whole responsibility for this misery [in Kosovo] lies on Slobodan Milosevic".

The real trial of strength will come when - or if - the opposition dares to stage a big public protest over the management of the Kosovo war in the capital, Belgrade. There the police may not be so easy going as they were in Cacak.

And in spite of their confidence, there is no sign that Mr Milosevic's rivals are close to uniting against him. Vuk Draskovic, head of the Serbian Renewal Movement, has already distanced his party from the protest.

Nor is Mr Milosevic passively awaiting his own overthrow. Since the Kosovo peace deal was signed he has been unusually active, appearing regularly in public and deftly nudging his party towards a new political realignment.

Distancing himself from his old allies among the extreme nationalists, Mr Milosevic yesterday made a surprising call for market reforms and the re-establishment of ties between his diplomatically isolated country and the West.

"The re-establishment of economic and cultural ties with all, above all the progressive and democratic countries on an equal footing, as well as affirmation of an open system of market economy, are our top goals in this period," the state news agency, Tanjug, reported him saying.

Mr Milosevic also called for unity among all political parties in Serbia, saying it was necessary for rebuilding the country after the Nato bombing. He said all people whose houses were destroyed in the strikes must get new ones by November.