Foreign Agencies on December 20th, 1996

Friday December 20 5:21 PM EST
Protests Block Center of Belgrade

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (Reuter) - Some 40,000 students protesting alleged election fraud by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's ruling Socialists paralyzed the center of Belgrade by blocking a bridge and main avenues Friday.

Student leaders had promised to mobilize their supporters to blockade three bridges over the Sava River with the aim of shutting down Belgrade for half an hour.

A tense standoff with a cordon of riot police on the approaches to one of the bridges was resolved after 30 minutes without any violence after students left.

The students later marched on to other bridges but riot police kept blocking their way and traffic on the city's main thoroughfares, to the chagrin of commuters stuck in huge jams.

The students thanked the police "for doing their job of blocking the city for them."

The traffic paralysis also affected demonstrations by the main opposition Zajedno movement, which kicked off hours later, since many supporters could not reach the main square in time.

As the students marched toward the right bank of the Sava, cheered by bystanders along the way and showered with confetti from windows and balconies, Zajedno supporters marched in the opposite direction, compounding the chaos.

The action coincided with the arrival of a delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to investigate vote-rigging allegations by Zajedno.

Copyright (c) 1996 Reuters Limited.

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