Protesters stand firm against Milosevic

Tens of thousands of Serbs defied government warnings and demonstrated against President Slobodan Milosevic yesterday as the authorities contemplated using force to end two weeks of street unrest. Braving freezing temperatures and heavy snow, a crowd led by students marched through Belgrade, some carrying flowers to symbolise their commitment to peaceful protest.

The ruling Socialist Party and Belgrade police turned up the pressure on the opposition on Sunday, warning that their patience was wearing thin and they would crack down hard on any violence or illegal behaviour. Students in the capital responded by sending an open letter to the police that said: "We don't want violence. Words are our only weapon."

Opposition activists suspect that Mr Milosevic is looking for an excuse to break up the daily demonstrations, which represent the most serious challenge to his rule since he took power as Serbia's Communist leader in 1987. Leaders of the Zajedno (Together) coalition of opposition parties say that government provocateurs were responsible for violent incidents last week, when youths smashed windows at the headquarters of the Milosevic- controlled state television and the newspaper Politika. Mr Milosevic, who used tanks to suppress street protests in Belgrade in March 1991, has so far kept his security forces in reserve. Until last Sunday, he appeared to be calculating that his tight control of the media, state administration and security apparatus would eventually cause the demonstrations to fizzle out.

Yet the protests have begun to attract working-class support, a disturbing sign for the authorities. Zoran Djindjic, an opposition leader who has tried to organise trade-union support for strikes to bring down Mr Milosevic, said: "We shall bring the political crisis to boiling point."

A violent crackdown on the opposition would destroy the progress Mr Milosevic had made since 1993 in changing his image abroad from that of bellicose nationalist to supporter of peace in Croatia and Bosnia. Violence would almost certainly rule out the removal of the so-called "outer wall" of international sanctions against Serbia, which include denial of access to the International Monetary Fund and suspension of membership in the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Carl Bildt, the Swedish official in charge of civilian aspects of the Dayton peace settlement for Bosnia, said yesterday that Mr Milosevic must refrain from violence against the opposition, since a political crisis in Serbia could spread instability all over former Yugoslavia. "Violence would dramatically increase the distance between the regime in Belgrade and the international community," he added.

The problem for the Serbian opposition is not only to find ways of keeping up pressure on Mr Milosevic but to maintain the unity of Zajedno, a movement that includes liberals, nationalists and ex-nationalists, and a large trade union. Mr Djindjic and another opposition leader, Vuk Draskovic, once embraced a form of strident nationalism that seemed little different from that of Mr Milosevic.

Both men now say they want to follow the example of countries such as Poland and Hungary since 1989 and transform Serbia into a free-market democracy. Mr Djindjic says he supports political pluralism and a law- based state and would respect the Bosnian peace accord.

Even if the opposition fails to topple Mr Milosevic, its leaders believe they have inflicted irreparable damage on his image. "We have torn off his mask ... to show him as he really is - a small-time Balkan dictator," Mr Djindjic said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee