Serb minister quits over TV censorship

Trouble broke out on another front for President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia yesterday as ethnic Albanian leaders in the southern province of Kosovo expressed support for the enormous pro-democracy rallies that have rocked Belgrade for the last 19 days. "We are watching with sympathy the attempts in Serbia to achieve real democratic reform," Hyclajet Hyseni, a spokesman for the ethnic Albanians, said.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority has been a constant thorn in Mr Milosevic's side since he took power in 1987 and later stripped the province of its autonomy. Though kept under the tight supervision of Serbian police, the Albanians have operated unofficial health and education systems for several years and have refused to give up hope of restoring their lost autonomy, and even turning Kosovo into a republic.

Western governments have made it a condition of Serbia's full return to international respectability that the authorities improve the treatment of ethnic Albanians.

As another march involving tens of thousands of Serbs passed off peacefully in Belgrade, the authorities were embarrassed by the resignation of their own information minister, Aleksandar Tijanic, who said he had had enough of illiberal media policies. The government, anxious to restrict public awareness of Belgrade protests, has portrayed them on state-controlled television as violent and involving only a handful of alleged subversives.

Mr Tijanic, formerly an independent journalist, said his "liberal concepts" of journalism had clearly been at odds with the views of his ministerial colleagues. Portraying his resignation as a matter of conscience, he said: "The journalist Tijanic has stepped on the minister Tijanic."

The Socialist authorities meanwhile raised the prospect that they might recognise opposition victories in recent local elections, the issue that set off the protests last month. The supreme court was considering a request from the Belgrade electoral commission to review the fate of city council seats initially declared to have been won by the opposition. The results were annulled under apparent pressure from Socialist Party hardliners, and a re-run of the elections, boycotted by many voters, brought a Socialist majority in the Belgrade council.

The opposition Zajedno (Together) coalition has vowed to continue the rallies in Belgrade until its election victories are confirmed, but its leaders also see a chance to go further and bring down Mr Milosevic.

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