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.

Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'


Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Life and Style

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher Jobs in Blackpool

Negotiable: Randstad Education Preston: Primary Teacher Jobs in BlackpoolWe ar...

Health & Social Teacher

Competitive & Flexible : Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobRandstad Educati...

***SEN British Sign Language Teacher***

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Successful candidate should hav...

Early Years and Foundation Stage Primary Teachers in Blackpool

Negotiable: Randstad Education Preston: Early Years and Foundation Stage Prima...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album