Milosevic stays cool as protests jam Belgrade

Balkans: Serb crisis overshadows Bosnia talks

Students, opposition activists and tens of thousands of ordinary Serbian citizens marched through a wintry Belgrade yesterday in the face of mounting evidence that President Slobodan Milosevic has no intention of conceding their demands for democracy and civil rights.

For the 17th day running, large crowds jammed the city centre, waving pro-democracy banners and chanting support for an independent radio station which Serbia's neo-Communist authorities closed down last Tuesday.

At the front of the demonstration was a group of young women carrying loaves of bread, a symbol of friendship and goodwill in Serbia. "We must try and win this battle for our future, because otherwise our country faces years of darkness," said Gordana Tadic, a science student.

As up to 50,000 people protested in the city, the authorities underlined their increasingly tough line by rejecting opposition demands for fresh local elections and by ruling out concessions in response to Western pressure. A Belgrade court dismissed an opposition claim that the ruling Socialist Party had defrauded it of victory by cancelling the results of municipal elections in the capital last month.

The authorities first signalled their more repressive approach last Sunday when the Speaker of the Serbian parliament, Dragan Tomic, went on state television to denounce the daily demonstrations as "destructive, violent and with all the characteristics of pro-Fascist groups and ideologies."

Last Tuesday, the authorities shut down the radio station B-92, which in contrast to the state-controlled media, had carried extensive reports on the anti-Milosevic protests.

Although Mr Milosevic has not ordered the use of force against the demonstrators, hundreds of extra police have been moved into Belgrade and other towns and a handful of opposition activists have been arrested.

With the opposition seemingly running short of ideas on how to expand its protests into a decisive challenge to his rule, Mr Milosevic appears at the moment to hold the upper hand. However, some cracks have recently appeared in the monolith.

Five Supreme Court judges broke ranks last Tuesday and criticised their colleagues for tamely approving the cancellation of the opposition's election victories. According to several reports in Serbia's independent media, the loyalty of the police may also be in doubt, a claim at least partly supported by the evident sympathy of some Belgrade policemen to the street demonstrators.

However, loud criticism from the United States and European countries of Mr Milosevic's policies appears to have made little or no impact. A Socialist Party spokesman, Ivica Dacic, rejected Western charges of election- rigging and said: "We are treating the question of the elections as an internal matter."

The opposition, grouped in a coalition known as Zajedno (Together), vowed yesterday to continue the protests at least until the new year. Yet except in the southern city of Nis, Zajedno has found it difficult to mobilise workers in its cause, a fact that indicates the relative success of the authorities in keeping students and educated people in Belgrade isolated from public opinion in the rest of Serbia.

Even the largest opposition demonstrations, which have attracted more than 100,000 people in Belgrade, have failed to trigger sympathy strikes or protests in factories.

Despite this, the opposition is confident that it has damaged Mr Milosevic's authority beyond repair. "He is bluffing and trying to scare the people, but we shall not be intimidated by his threats and insults," said Vuk Draskovic, an opposition leader.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones