Rally launches new campaign to oust Milosevic

ANTI-GOVERNMENT parties known here as the "worst opposition in south-eastern Europe" yesterday stepped up their campaign to remove the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, from power.

The Alliance for Change, a loose coalition of some 35 Serbian opposition parties, held its first rally in Belgrade last night, after dozens of similar protests in provincial cities since the end of the Nato bombing campaign in June. Leaders of the alliance call their campaign the "broad democratic rebellion against the regime". They say the demonstration will be the first of a series of daily protests.

But one key figure was missing yesterday - Vuk Draskovic. His Serbian Renewal Movement is the largest opposition party. But Mr Draskovic has refused to join the alliance because of old rivalries, and the opposition's clear disunity has prevented it from reaching its goal of unseating Mr Milosevic.

"The regime has to be weakened by prolonged protests and demonstrations... After that, fair and democratic elections should follow," Zoran Djindjic, the leader of the Democratic Party within the alliance, has been repeating for weeks.

At its first convention last week, the Alliance for Change chose Dragoslav Avramovic, an octogenarian, as its candidate for prime minister in any future transitional government. Mr Avramovic, known as "super Grandpa", gained his nickname in 1994, when he was installed by Mr Milosevic to head the National Bank of Yugoslavia and he introduced financial reforms that brought down unprecedented inflation rates.

Mr Milosevic has managed to stay in office by skilfully manipulating the opposition and co-opting some of its leaders. On the surface, the Serbian President and his aides are not paying much attention to the Alliance for Change's rally. Last week, Mirko Marjanovic, the Serbian Prime Minister, called the opposition "Lilliputian".

"Besides the usual three pillars of power [army, finances and media control], Milosevic has the fourth - bad opposition," Dusan Pavlovic, a researcher for the Belgrade Institute for European Studies said.

Nevertheless, Mr Milosevic's government has denounced the opposition leaders as traitors, coerced by the Nato "aggressors" who bombed Yugoslavia. And, apparently intending to take some of the steam out of the protest, the government yesterday began issuing long-overdue cheques to pensioners and back pay for army reservists.

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