Opposition in Serbia told to stop bickering

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AFTER THURSDAY'S massive protest rally against Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia's opposition leaders are under stronger pressure than ever to set aside their differences and topple the Yugoslav President.

The Belgrade march, which attracted as many as 150,000 people from every section of the opposition, demonstrated the strengths and weaknesses of the movement: the size of the hostility to Mr Milosevic and the jealous rivalries of his opponents, which may yet keep him in power.

Yesterday, the government- controlled press did its best to play down the event, relegating coverage to the inside pages, with headlines such as that in the newspaper Politika, which proclaimed a "failed pro-Nato rally" attended by no more than 25,000 demonstrators.

"One can't tell who is more disappointed, the organisers, the participants or the Nato bosses and mentors," said the state television station.

But the government's anti-Nato card seems to be losing some of its potency, and the main leaders of the rally were delighted with the turnout at the largest anti-Milosevic protest since 1997. They stepped up their demands for his speedy and unconditional resignation.

But the splits in the opposition are starting to show. While Zoran Djindjic demanded Mr Milosevic's immediate replacement, his bitter rival, the quixotic Vuk Draskovic, urged early elections as the best way out of the deadlock. But the former deputy prime minister of Yugoslavia was widely booed for his pains. "Treason, Treason," chanted sections of the crowd, mindful of Mr Draskovic's long history of zigzagging between the opposition and Mr Milosevic, and fearful that any election would be simply rigged by the present regime.

Meanwhile Nato governments are becoming daily more impatient at the squabbling. Yesterday it was the turn of Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, to warn that the Serb opposition must unite. "All the democratic forces in Serbia must continue down the path they've started," he said. "The door to Europe is open for a democratic Serbia."