Students beaten by police in Belgrade protest

AT LEAST a dozen people rallying against President Slobodan Milosevic were severely beaten by baton-wielding Serbian police in Belgrade yesterday as a column of 2,000 students attempted to reach the parliament building.

The 250-member Yugoslav legislature opened its regular session and agreed to discuss the student and opposition demands for early elections. But no date was set, and it is doubtful that the 45 SPO MPs from the largest opposition party would attend. They walked out of the chamber yesterday after their demand was rejected for a parliamentary probe into the slow official investigation into a car accident that killed four SPO officials but left SPO leader Vuk Draskovic unharmed.

Analysts said that the action by dozens of police in full riot gear to disperse the peaceful student demonstrators as they marched in heavy rain and wind was a new illustration of the Milosevic regime's nervousness. It was the first time police had beaten students, who were at the forefront of 88 days of continuous protests in 1996-97 which forced Milosevic to acknowledge opposition victories in a string of Serbian towns after local elections.

The injured were rushed to hospitals in the private cars of drivers who witnessed the beatings at two busy crossroads by the buildings of the main post office and the parliament. Retreating students shouted "Slobodan to the Hague," referring to the UN tribunal which charged the Yugoslav president with war crimes. Police intervened brutally in September against sympathisers of the opposition Alliance for Change umbrella grouping, but have been less visible during the daily street protests which have continued since then.

The student organisation Otpor (Resistance) convened yesterday's rally to highlight demands which the students share with the main opposition parties in Serbia, namely for early, fair and democratic elections. Alliance for Change held its own protest,which was also barred by police from reaching the parliament building.

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