News for February 1st, 1997

More than 30,000 students banged drums and blew whistles and kazoos as they marched from central Belgrade to the Sava centre on Saturday night. The centre is currently hosting FEST 97 -- the largest Yugoslav cinema festival. Belgrade mayor Nebojsa Covic had earlier declined to open the FEST, saying that if the people's will had been observed it would have been opened by a new mayor of Belgrade instead. Leaders of the protesting students said it was insensitive to proceed with FEST in light of the current situation in Serbia. Riot police stood guard as the students arrived at the Sava Centre, but the protest ended without incident.

The British daily Financial Times reported on Saturday that the National Westminster Bank's investment branch has given up its attempt to help Serbia negotiate a solution for its debt to commercial banks. Nat West Market had pledged assistance at the time when Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was in favour of an economic program based on liberalization and privatization. But recent developments indicate that this program has been abandoned, and the NWM has informed Belgrade that it can no longer be involved in working on settlement of the debt.

Zajedno leader Zoran Djindjic claimed in an interview in Belgrade's daily Demokratija on Saturday that the purpose of his visits to Germany and Austria had been to seek unification of political and economic reform in Serbia. He stressed that economic problems must be addressed as soon as the political system is reformed.

Belgrade's weekly 'Nedeljni Telegraf Plus' claimed on Friday that top Yugoslav Army officers had given the government until January 31 to decide whether the Federation needed an army. They had warned the government that the army could not survive in the current financial and social conditions. Army commanders, pressed by their junior officers had recently petitioned Army Chief-of- Staff Momcilo Perisic on this issue, demanding that he refer it to the Supreme Defence Council, the weekly reported.

The five-member Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia warned on Friday that Serbian authorities must implement the recommendations of the OSCE in full and without delay. The OSCE report confirmed the victory of the opposition in local elections in a number of cities in Serbia. American representative of the Contact Group, John Cornbloom, said that the members of the group are unanimous in their demand for adoption of the report.

Never before has there been such unanimity of European opinion on a single issue as the demand for immediate recognition of Serbia's local election results, said French Academician Jean-Francois Deniau in an interview with 'Nasa Borba'. Mr Deniau has been visiting Belgrade on behalf of the French parliamentary commission for national defence. He went on to say that the current crisis could be overcome only by implementation of the recommendations of the Organization for Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) through the state institutions. In this way the Serbian Government could be seen to acknowledge the election results without foreign pressure.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov criticised Serbian authorities for not recognising the results of the disputed November 17 elections on Saturday. Asked when the current election dispute might end, Mr. Ivanov said that he had expected it to be concluded by Friday. During his visit to Belgrade last week, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had reportedly promised Mr. Ivanov that a solution would be found by the end of that week.

The Trade Union of Educational Workers, one of several bodies representing teachers in Serbia, held a protest meeting at the Trade Union Hall in Belgrade on Friday. The chairman of the union urged representatives of all teachers' unions to form a committee to draft unified demands. The union has written to Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic, but has not received a reply. Another letter has now been sent demanding a meeting with Mr Marjanovic on February 7.

Several thousand demonstrators gathered in Kragujevac on Saturday to express dissatisfaction with the economic blockade of the city by Serbian authorities. Citizens were also protesting against the government's continued refusal to relinquish control of local media. More than a thousand teachers from Kragujevac schools also protested in the centre of the city on Saturday, demanding payment of overdue salaries from December and January.

In Zajecar today, the police banned the 58th protest gathering against the annulment of the local election results.

Several thousand citizens of Novi Sad participated in the today's protest walk of solidarity with other citizens of Serbia, who have been demonstrating against the violation of their electoral will. This protest walk was organized by coalition Zajedno. The stress was put on the celebration of February 1, the day on which in 1784 Novi Sad had become a free city of the kingdom. Students of Novi Sad University, who have been been protesting against the annulment of the second round of local elections for 61 days now, participated in the the protest walk.

Around 1,000 citizens of Pirot gathered today in the 70th protest rally against the annulment of the results of local elections. After the rally, the citizens took another "prison" walk in the central square, since the policemen did not allow them to walk along the streets of Pirot.

The schools of Nis University are prepared to start with lectures the moment the students themselves decide to attend them, decided the Teaching staff of Nis University today. The Teaching staff expressed their support for the students demands that the truth should be known about the local elections held november 17, that the results of those elections, which represent the citizens' will, should be recognized and that those who broke the law during the elections should be punished.

Members of the Student Protest delegation to the US stated on Saturday that American officials had promised to help those organizations fighting for the democratization of Serbia. Student Protest spokesman Dusan Vasiljevic told reporters: ``We feel responsible for those students who have been demonstrating for months. When the protests finish, we will continue to protect their interests.''

New pressure on the media came on Saturday in Belgrade when police detianed Petar Lazic, editor in chief of the satirical weekly 'Nasa Krmaca'. Police said the arrest was part of investigations into photos published of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic with Saddam Hussian.

Citizens of Belgrade made noise during the prime time news program of the RTS (State Radio-television Network) this evening. A high number of citizens gathered at the same time in their districts in order to start for Republic Square, where the protest rally was to be held, in organized processions. In front of "Atina" restaurant in Srpskih vladara street, some 100 fully equipped riot policemen from Vranje were posted. These policemen had not been noticed previous days.

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