Protests rock Serbia and Croatia

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The Independent Online
Serbia and Croatia were convulsed yesterday by the largest anti-government protests since the outbreak of the wars in former Yugoslavia in 1991. Serbian opposition leaders brought thousands of demonstrators on to Belgrade's streets for the third day running in protest at the attempts of President Slobodan Milosevic's ruling Socialist Party to annul opposition victories in local elections.

The Socialists still dominate the federal parliament of rump Yugoslavia, which unites Serbia and Montenegro. But a coalition of opposition parties known as Zajedno ("Together") scored an unprecedented success last Sunday when they defeated the Socialists in munici- pal elections in Belgrade, the industrial cities of Nis and Kragujevac, and Novi Sad, capital of Vojvodina province.

The jubilant chairman of the opposition Democratic Party, Zoran Djindjic, said the results would "ring around the world" and prove to Serbia's friends that the country ruled by Mr Milosevic since 1987 was "neither Cuba nor North Korea". Another opposition lead- er, Vojislav Kostunica, declared: "The outcome of the local elections represents a first important step in the direction of the establishment of a democratic order in Serbia."

The anti-government pro- tests broke out after Socialist-controlled electoral commissions, citing unspecified voting irregularities, ordered new elections in a majority of municipalities where the opposition had been victorious. Demonstrations in Belgrade were the largest since March 1991, when Mr Milosevic deployed tanks and police units to suppress tens of thousands of protestors

In Croatia, ruled since 1990 by President Franjo Tudjman and his right- wing nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the government was denounced at home and in Western capitals for announcing plans to shut down the country's last independent radio station. Thousands of demonstrators massed in central Zagreb on Wednesday night to shout anti-Tudjman slogans and wave banners in support of Radio 101, which the HDZ intends to silence from 30 November by awarding its fre- quency to a new station.

The action also flies in the face of Croatian government promises to the Council of Europe to protect freedom of speech and pluralism in the media. It is unclear to what extent Mr Tudjman personally was behind the action against Radio 101. He has been in a Washing- ton hospital for the last week with what the state-controlled Croatian media described as "digestion problems". A US official said he understood Mr Tudjman had stomach cancer.