Milosevic `set to surrender the capital'

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The Independent Online
Serbia's embattled government hinted it may accept opposition electoral victories in the hope of curbing discontent with Socialist rule which has sparked 73 days of street protests and paralysed the economy. Dissent in Serbia is spreading, as different groups seize the moment to voice their demands.

Yesterday about 300 lawyers took to the streets to mark the start of the barristers' strike called in support of the democracy demonstrators, while hundreds of striking schoolteachers met in the capital to demand payment from the state.

"All the barristers here are real individuals - it's very hard to unite them in any way," Miroljub Belic said, as he marched beside his professional rivals. "It's a real sign of how badly something needs to change in our system."

As the column of respectable citizenry - furs de rigueur for the women, homburgs optional for men - marched up a hill in central Belgrade, they bumped into the daily student rally.

The colourful youth wing welcomed their elders with cheers, which the lawyers accepted with dignified smiles.

Rumours are rife in Belgrade that President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia is preparing to bite the bullet and allow Zajedno (Together), the opposition coalition, to take control of Belgrade city hall. There were reports last night that Mr Milosevic had sacked the head of Serbian television, which has been a target of opposition anger since the rallies began.

On Thursday night, Zoran Lilic, the President of Yugoslavia, the mouthpiece of Mr Milosevic, announced on state television that "the results of the elections should be recognised ... everywhere the opposition won by the will of the people".

However, while he mentioned a report by the Organisation for Co-Operation and Security in Europe, which long ago said the opposition should take control of the 14 towns it won in elections on 17 November, Mr Lilic referred vaguely to "some other solution".

Locals reading the runes were sure that this time the government is beaten. "It means they're giving up. I don't see any other way to interpret what Lilic said," said Bratislav Grub- acic, an independent analyst.

One Western diplomat was told by officials change would come "very soon", but noted that a similar note of optimism was struck a couple of weeks ago with no result. Still, he believed that "there have been enough voices off-stage" to expect a solution to the crisis.

The students who march daily through the streets in their thousands, and the citizens who gather every night in support of Zajedno, blowing whistles and banging pots and pans in disgust at the regime, will not easily be bought off.

For all that the government mutters about compromise, it is clear there can be no shirking over the first step: recognition of Zajedno's electoral victory. Beyond that, the Socialists will probably try to set up negotiations on a wider political agenda in the hope of limiting the opposition's gains.