News for January 2nd, 1997

Official Belgrade has asked for more time to formally reply to the recommendation of the OSCE representatives to acknowledge the opposition victory in the local elections in many cities and municipalities in Serbia, AFP reports today, quoting an OSCE diplomat. The unnamed diplomatic source denied Belgrade's claim that the OSCE mission report was only a preliminary one and yet to be endorsed, saying that the conclusions of Gonzalez's report are final and that there will be no other OSCE report. He added that the OSCE will examine the report in an informal session in Vienna this Friday.

Episcopal consultations began today in the Patriarchate of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade concerning the current situation in Serbia, FoNet learned from the Holy Synod office. It is expected that the major topic of the episcopal consultations will be the daily demonstrations and the situation in Serbia as a whole, especially since the regime's nullification of local electoral results. The Holy Synod office said the episcopal meeting is to issue a statement this afternoon.

A letter signed by 230 priests from the dioceses of the Sabac and Valjevo region demanded that the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church make clear its position regarding the current events in Serbia. The letter stressed the signatories' dissatisfaction with the unclear, vague and ambiguous statements by the Church which Radio Television Serbia, the regime's main propaganda tool, has been using to its ends.

A statement issued today after the episcopal consultations held by the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church says:

"Having considered the whole situation which ensued from the events of November 17th, when the citizens' will expressed in the local elections was drastically violated by the ruling regime, the Holy Synod is of the opinion:
1. That the matter in question is not connected merely with the political and party affiliation. First of all, it has fundamental ethical significance for our people.
2. Serbian Orthodox Church, expecting that the sense will triumph at last, that reality will be accepted and the people's will and dignity recognized, has patiently been praying to God - the Creator of Peace - for the peace of Christ in Serbia.

Since the peace has not come, and since after a few weeks of numerous peaceful demonstrations in the streets of Belgrade and other cities and towns in Serbia, force was used by the ruling regime in order to quell the freely expressed will of the people, which resulted in bloodshed and suffering of innocent victims, whose blood, like Abel's, cries out towards Heaven, Serbian archpriests gathered to utter their own conclusion.

The Serbian Orthodox Church sternly condemns the falsification of electoral results, the stifling of political and religious freedoms, and especially the beatings and murders of people in the streets of a once freedom-loving Belgrade and throughout Serbia. The Holy Synod condemns this government for not having respected the electoral will of the people, but above all for tarnishing our illustrious and painful history, our national memory, our dignity, the name of Serbia, the Cyrillic script, and our spiritual and national values. The Holy Synod also condemns this government for its betrayal of western Serbian regions, for leading the nation and the state to a complete breakdown and the people to utmost penury, for setting us at odds with the whole world, and now trying to make us quarrel among ourselves and shed blood only so as to be able to stay in power. The Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as an age-long protector of national sanctities and values, strongly and publicly condemns this sort of behavior by the ruling regime.

Serbian bishops firmly believe that only respect for the democratic principles and human rights and the acknowledgment of the Nov. 17 electoral results can bring hope for a better future and peaceful living to the whole Serbian nation and to the other citizens of Serbia. The day of Christ's birth is nearing. He brought us peace, which was neither created by this world nor can be taken away by it, and we therefore pray to Christ to bestow the long hoped-for peace, harmony and love on us. Peace of God be with us!"

Dozens of thousands of Zajedno supporters gathered for their 43rd protest meeting against the nullification of the second round electoral results in many towns and municipalities in Serbia. They were surrounded by heavy riot squads posted in Belgrade's Republic Square. Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, said that we are entering the new year with great hope, but also with great anxiety and trepidation. Leader of the Democratic Party Zoran Djindjic said that "On the New Year's Eve, for a moment, Belgrade became the capital of the entire world, as prominent TV stations all across the globe reported live about our festivities here. The whole world watched us, except for the Serbian President and his television." After the meeting, the demonstrators marched up and down Knez Mihajlova Street, as several thousands riot police were deployed in the adjacent streets, reports FoNet.

A great number of Belgraders joined the action "Noise Is All the Rage" tonight by banging on all kinds of metal kitchenware, tin cans, pots and pans, and also twirling their rattles, ringing their bells, and by blowing on trumpets, whistles and all sorts of makeshift gadgets, too. People from all over the city have been phoning Radio B92 to report on the extent of noise in their neighborhoods. Radio B92 also received a number of complaints, especially from the neighborhood of Dorcol, for having awarded the title "The Best Noise Making Neighborhood" to New Belgrade last night. Radio B92's jury has decided to avoid such a situation tonight and simply not award the title. They have, however, decided to award the title of "The Bravest Noise Making Street" it goes to the residents of Durmitorska Street, the site of both Republic and Federal Police Headquarters.

SPO leader Vuk Draskovic told Reuters Television today that despite Zajedno's resolve to keep the demonstrations peaceful, no one can guarantee that the participants in the protests in Belgrade streets will not defend themselves in case of renewed police assault on them, stressing that this could be the beginning of bloodshed and a civil war. He added that Milosevic's government is negotiating with paramilitary groups to crush the protests that have been going on in Belgrade and other Serbian cities for over a month now.

"All of Zajedno deputies in the Novi Sad City Assembly are former Socialists. The Socialists have continued their rule in Novi Sad through the coalition Zajedno," said leader of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) Vojislav Seselj today. He believes Serbian President Milosevic to be a loser in the current political conflict and that the incessant demonstrations throughout Serbia have inflicted on him "such wounds that he won't be able to recover." Seselj also thinks that Milosevic will try to cut a deal with Zajedno. He said his party would take part in the panel discussions taking place in the Serbian Parliament, provided they are given back the seats the Socialists "have stolen" from them.

A session by the Nis Electoral Commission today counted again the polling lists from 27 disputed polling stations, a Zajedno representative in the commission told Radio B92. She said the coalition Zajedno believed fresh balloting would make no sense.

The lead editorial in today's issue of "Washington Post" begins with the statement that "The most urgent project in Europe in the new year is to ensure the people of Serbia the leadership of their democratic choice." The editorial goes onto say that such a result "would not just bring relief to the 10 million people who live under Slobodan Milosevic in what has been called the last totalitarian regime on the continent. The example and policy of democracy in Serbia also would open the surest and shortest road -- if still a steep and rocky one -- to resolving tensions throughout the former Yugoslavia as a whole."

Russian media report today that the position of the Serbian authorities is becoming more difficult each passing day as their chances of getting out of the corner they've painted themselves in are getting slimmer and slimmer, while the numbers of those who support their opponents become greater each day.

Radio Television Serbia's tonight's prime time news show did not say a word about the statement made earlier today by the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Neither did it mention the protest gatherings in Belgrade.

A civil initiative group in Frankfurt and German university students will express their support for their counterparts at the UofB by a peaceful march before the Yugoslav Embassy in Frankfurt on January 5.

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