Mob attacks leading rival to Milosevic

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The Independent Online
THE INCREASINGLY bitter divisions among Serbs boiled over yesterday when the country's leading opposition leader was beaten and punched by Slobodan Milosevic supporters at one of the orthodox church's most sacred religious sites.

A mob of more than 100 angry Kosovar Serbs attacked and heckled Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party, at the mediaeval Gracanica monastery in Kosovo, after he met orthodox church leaders to form an alliance to overthrow President Milosevic.

Reporters and members of Mr Djindjic's entourage were also attacked and had to be escorted from the grounds by British soldiers of the King's Royal Hussars, who stood guard beside two tanks.

Mr Djindjic's visit to Kosovo was the latest stage in his campaign to drive out Mr Milosevic, which began earlier this week in the Serbian town of Uzice where 5,000 people turned out for his first public speech since fleeing Serbia six weeks ago. He called for a campaign of nationwide demonstrations, civil disobedience and a general strike aimed at forcing out the Serbian president in the next three months.

The opposition leader met Kosovar Serb bishop, Artemije of Prizren, to agree on a joint campaign between his political supporters and the orthodox church. "We share common objectives," Father Sava Janjic, one of the bishop's aides, said at the monastery. "Mr Milosevic has to leave office and there should be democratisation of Serbia as soon as possible."

"Serb people in Kosovo are becoming more and more aware of what is happening under Milosevic," Father Sava said. "Now Belgrade TV has gone off the air here, people are freed from that daily brainwashing. We hope that they will use their heads and build a democratic Kosovo and Serbia where all races can live."

But such optimistic observations were not reflected on the ground, and the chaotic scenes in front of the monastery's famous church demonstrated how polarised emotions among Serbs have become since the Nato bombing campaign began in March. "Thieves! Traitors!" the Serb crowd shouted as Mr Djindjic's party emerged to a barrage of abuse and the occasional thrown plastic bottle. "Djindjic is an American spy," bellowed one woman.

Finally the opposition alliance issued a statement, signed by Bishop Artemije of Kosovo, on behalf of the church, and by Vladan Batic, coordinator of the Alliance for Change, agreeing to "unite all our efforts for the protection and survival of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija" - the Serbian designation of the province.

The statement, released to reporters, also expressed regret for all crimes committed against innocent civilians in 16-months of unrest and fighting in Kosovo.

Chanting protesters and opposition leaders at an anti- Milosevic rally in Prokuplje, southern Serbia, yesterday, were undeterred when gunshots were fired in the air.