Foreign Agencies on December 18th, 1996

Christian Science Monitor
Wednesday December 18, 1996 Edition
Besieged Serbian Leader Squirms to Keep Power
Paul Wood, Special to The Christian Science Monitor

BELGRADE -- "The world senses that something special is happening in Serbia, much like the toppling of the Berlin Wall." So says Belgrade's independent weekly journal of opinion, Vreme, capturing the spirit of its middle class, largely professional readership - the kind of people who daily bring the capital to a standstill with huge antigovernment demonstrations.

A HAPPY TUNE: A Belgrade University student whistles and waves as 30,000 students protested Dec. 16 in the capital. Five weeks of demonstrations against President Milosevic have forced him to concede the results of some local elections. (DAVID BRAUCHLI/AP)

It is this kind of exuberance that continues to pervade the protests against Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic.

(c) Copyright 1996 The Christian Science Publishing Society.

Wall Street Journal
December 18, 1996
Milosevic Meets With Protesters, Vows to Look Into Vote Fraud
Associated Press

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Facing the biggest in a month of anti-government protests, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic tried to ease the pressure on him Tuesday by meeting with some demonstrators and promising to investigate charges of electoral fraud.

About 200,000 people took to the street in Belgrade as workers, who had stood on the sidelines for weeks, finally joined the crowds of students and opposition supporters who have been demonstrating daily against the annulment of Nov. 17 election results.

Mr. Milosevic met with a group of student protesters who had walked 150 miles to give the longtime Serb leader documents that they said proved the opposition had won the elections.

While Mr. Milosevic has defended the election process as fair, he has publicly distanced himself from the election commissions and courts that overturned opposition victories in 17 cities housing two-thirds of Serbia's people.

In recent days, the opposition's hopes have risen since authorities reversed themselves and restored opposition victories in Nis, the southern city where the students came from, and in Smederevska Palanka, 30 miles outside Belgrade.

Despite Mr. Milosevic's promise, pressure on the street grew. About 1,000 workers joined opposition supporters and students to protest the annulment of opposition victories in Belgrade and elsewhere. Tuesday's crowd was the largest in four weeks.

Workers, who traditionally have formed the backbone of Mr. Milosevic's support, have generally stayed away from the protests. Their participation in large numbers would markedly increase the pressure on Mr. Milosevic.

The three students who met Mr. Milosevic gave him documentation they said showed that election results in Nis were falsified. "He promised to punish all those who have breached the law," said Predrag Cveticanin, who met Milosevic in his office for 20 minutes.

Mr. Milosevic told the Justice Ministry to thoroughly examine the students' submitted documentation and publish its findings, the Tanjug news agency reported.

Opposition leader Zoran Djindjic was skeptical. "I would say his are just empty words," Mr. Djindjic said. "Is it possible that the president needs students to remind him of his constitutional duties?"

Copyright (c) 1996 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Student Foes Present Demands to Milosevic
By John Pomfret
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 18 1996; Page A25
The Washington Post

BELGRADE, Dec. 17 -- For the first time in a month of unprecedented anti-government protests, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic confronted some of his accusers today after they arrived in Belgrade, feet blistered and exhausted, at the end of a 148-mile trek to his office.

Eyes swollen from lack of sleep but spirits buoyed by pats on the back and a roast pig presented to them by peasants along the way, three students stumbled sleepily into Milosevic's gray office building and spent 15 minutes with a man whom hundreds of thousands of Serbs accuse of masterminding electoral fraud.

In a cavernous room that echoed with the roar of a demonstration outside, the students gave Milosevic a letter demanding that he restore the electoral victory of a coalition of five opposition parties in their home town, Nis, south of Belgrade. Nis is just one of several cities in Serbia, including Belgrade, where Milosevic's Socialist Party allegedly stole opposition victories in municipal elections on Nov. 17, touching off widespread street protests.

"As we do not want to have another civil war in Serbia and we are determined not to have a dictatorship in this country, we are appealing to you to return to the rule of law," a drowsy Nikola Bozinovic, 23, an electrical engineering student, told the president.

Milosevic promised to look into their complaints and then switched topics and accused the students of being manipulated by a political opposition group, which he said is attempting to curry favor with the West.

"It is perfectly clear no matter how strongly your leaders are asking for help from abroad, Serbia will not be ruled by foreign hands," Milosevic intoned, echoing the xenophobic line churned out by his state-run media. "Serbia is its own master. . . . Our country can be a good partner but should not be anyone's slave."

The short meeting in a vast chamber of the Serbian presidential palace was another sign that Milosevic may be preparing to back down from his month-long standoff with the protesters and hand administrative control of several towns to the opposition coalition, known as Together.
The meeting with Milosevic touched off a split within Serbia's student protest movement, a key element in the anti-government ferment. Students from Belgrade universities opposed the meeting, saying the Nis students would be made to look foolish on state-run television -- as occurred in June 1992 when a meeting of students with Milosevic took the steam out of earlier demonstrations. Belgrade students said they wanted foreign television crews to be allowed into the hall to film the event to prevent Milosevic's propaganda aides from censoring it to his advantage.

But the Nis students said they had walked too far and too long not to sit with the president. They also interrupted Milosevic at least four times "to try to make it difficult for them to edit the tape," Bozinovic said.

Tonight, TV Serbia led its news broadcast with several minutes on Milosevic's meeting with the students. While the president dominated the meeting, the students held their own -- talking back to Milosevic but not appearing disrespectful or rude.

The meeting highlighted the growing importance of Serbian students to the protests. While Serbia's state-run news media lambastes the Together coalition nightly, it has yet to criticize the students; at worst, it has accused them of being naive. One reason for the students' growing influence is that their movement has avoided direct support for the Together coalition. Of the 17 people who took part in the Nis-Belgrade trek, Bozinovic said in an interview, only two had any affiliation with a political party.

"It is great that we are neutral," agreed Uros Bobic, 20, a drama student from Belgrade and one of the leaders of the Belgrade student rallies. "We want to show we are citizens of this country with the right to vote and choose. We also want to show the opposition that the moment they start acting like Milosevic we will rise up again."

All sides have courted the students since mass protests began in Nis and Belgrade a month ago. The Together coalition regularly donates food to the Belgrade students and has tried to persuade them to merge their demonstrations with the coalition's. So far, they have declined.

Serbian nationalist organizations also have tried to win the students to their agenda, but among the young there is little nationalist fervor of the sort that has swept this republic over the last five years. "We are finished with most of that stuff," said Katarina Kostic, 23, a music student. "Sure, some crazy guy will suggest us to do something like send a message to the Bosnian Serbs, but we always vote him down."

The Nis students said their march to Belgrade was rough but exhilarating. Setting out at noon Sunday, they walked in groups of three, rotating every four hours. While some walked, others napped in a van that traveled behind them. One of them, Nikola Pejovic, 21, said what touched him most was the support the group received along the way. "People were cheering us as we walked up the highway, honking horns, waving," he said. "We felt like heroes."

CAPTION: A group of Serbian workers added to the anti-government climate in Belgrade yesterday with a rally opposing a labor bill they claim would cut 800,000 jobs.

CAPTION: Milosevic reads a protest statement delivered to him by student organizer Nikola Bozinovic, who took part in a 148-mile march from Nis to Belgrade.

(c) Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, December 18, 1996
Conciliatory Serb Leader Meets With Student Protesters
By TRACY WILKINSON, Times Staff Writer

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia--In a move to deflate and divide his formidable opposition, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic struck a conciliatory pose Tuesday and met with students who had walked 150 miles to protest his regime's alleged electoral fraud.

Milosevic, seeming to admit for the first time that some misconduct occurred in Nov. 17 municipal elections, assured the students from the southern city of Nis that their claims will be investigated.

"There is no danger that the truth will remain hidden," he told three students who met with him in his office as tens of thousands of their contemporaries protested loudly outside.

The session was taped by state television and included in its nightly news broadcast. Other journalists were not permitted into the meeting--the first by the Serbian president with opponents who have been part of the greatest challenge to his nine-year rule.

At times, Milosevic could barely be heard over the anti-government raucousness outside his windows.

The students, who marched for 48 hours in shifts, presented Milosevic with copies of vote tally sheets from Nis that seem to substantiate fraud. One of the students, Predrag Cveticanin, said that Milosevic promised to investigate the students' claims.

But Nis is a moot point: On Sunday, the government conceded opposition victories there, after mounting protests against the Milosevic regime. On Tuesday, the Serbian supreme court also upheld opposition victories in the Belgrade suburb of Savski Venac.

The Serbian leader, who seemed short-tempered during his meeting with the Nis students, also warned that what he called the foreign influence within the opposition movement will not be tolerated.

"We have to be completely clear . . . as your leaders go to embassies and send envoys and travel to world capitals, a foreign hand shall not rule Serbia," Milosevic said of the republic, which, with tiny Montenegro, makes up the rump Yugoslavia. "We are our own masters in Serbia, and we have to resolve our problems within our own institutions."

His comments coincided with the regime's campaign to emphasize opposition use of American, British and German flags in daily protest marches--and with opposition leaders' return in the previous couple of days from meetings with Western officials in Washington, Geneva and elsewhere.

Milosevic's meeting with the students who walked from Nis to Belgrade, the Serbian and Yugoslav capital, appeared to represent a classic tactic of his, aimed at co-opting part of the opposition that has staged demonstrations ever since opposition electoral victories were annulled a month ago. In 1991, during the last major anti-Milosevic demonstrations, he ended the protest by meeting behind closed doors with students.

Copyright Los Angeles Times

USA Today
12/18/96 - 06:44 PM ET
Students resume protests, Milosevic organizes counter-rallies

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia - Dozens of students embarked on a long-distance march Wednesday in an effort to keep pressure on Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to recognize opposition election victories.
Thirty-seven students struck out from Kragujevac, 75 miles from Belgrade, with an open letter they hoped to present to Milosevic. Their march came a day after 17 students arrived from Nis, twice as far from the capital, and met briefly with the Serbian president.

"We are on a walk of freedom and truth," said marcher Miodrag Mistilovic.

Kragujevac, an industrial city, has been hit hard by unemployment and other economic woes during Milosevic's nearly 10 years in power.

About 20,000 students gathered in Belgrade Wednesday and tried to march to the exclusive Dedinje neighborhood where Milosevic lives but several hundred riot police blocked their way. No incidents were reported.

More protests by the opposition were planned later Wednesday in Belgrade, one of 17 cities that Milosevic's opponents said they won last month.

The Nis students gave Milosevic documentation they said showed that election results there were falsified. The students said he promised to investigate.
State TV broadcast part of Milosevic's meeting with the students.

"This state will not protect anyone who breaches the law," he told the students, adding that they had "secured legality" by coming to him in Belgrade.

By The Associated Press

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