Foreign Agencies on January 29th, 1997

Serbian Protesters Take Back the Streets

(16:53 01/29/97) BELGRADE(Reuter) - Thousands of Serbian students tied up downtown Belgrade unhindered by police Wednesday as demonstrators grew bolder on the 11th week of pro-democracy protests across Serbia.

An estimated 20,000 students packed into Slavija Square, halting traffic in the heart of the city, late in the morning.

They then marched for two hours on boulevards, past the offices of state television and the state-run newspaper Politika, where people waved from fire escapes to students who blew whistles and shouted: ``Join us.''

There were no riot police in evidence and traffic police made no effort to intervene.
It was the second day in a row that riot police maintained a low profile in the city. This month they stopped students from marching for eight successive days and had been generally enforcing a ban on protests.

A student organizer said the cash-strapped government simply could not afford the cost of containing the marches.

"The daily cost of police is two million German marks (more than $1 million)," Mirjan Antonic told Reuters. "Furthermore I think we have won."
As part of their protest Wednesday, about 100 students walked from Slavija Square to a nearby clinic to give blood.

"If blood must be shed, as some officials say, then we will do it this way," said student spokesman Momcilo Radulovic, referring to the clubbings of demonstrators by riot police and rumours that a crackdown was imminent.

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