Police block Belgrade protests

Belgrade - Serbian security police blocked a march by 50,000 people in Belgrade yesterday in the 42nd day running of pro-democracy demonstrations. The protest column was intercepted after it poured into the Serbian capital's main pedestrian mall following fiery speeches by leaders of the Zajedno (Together) opposition coalition in Republic Square.

Riot police were enforcing a ban on street marches imposed by the ruling Socialist party (SPS) after a melee on Christmas Eve between Zajedno protesters and government loyalists bused into Belgrade to intimidate the opposition. A Zajedno supporter was reportedly trampled to death as crowds tried to flee a police charge.

Police created two cordons to box in demonstrators yesterday. Protesters reacted, as before, by walking in circles as if they were imprisoned. They also shouted "murderers" and "dogs" at police. A carnival atmosphere set in, with some demonstrators joining hands in Serbian folk dances. No violence was reported.

Up to a quarter of a million people have demonstrated in Belgrade and other Serbian towns daily in a campaign to reverse the SPS's annulment ofmunicipal elections won by the Zajedno bloc on 17 November.

Zajedno, backed later by findings of a special Organisation for Security and Co- operation in Europe mission, accused the SPS of vote rigging and wants its victories reinstated in 14 cities including Belgrade. Other municipalitieswere swept by the SPS.