News for January 4th, 1997

The Serbian opposition won the elections in eight Belgrade constituencies and in the City Assembly, Melissa Fleming, the OSCE spokeswoman stated today and added that Gonzalez's representative, Jorge Descalar, made himself very clear on that question during yesterday's OSCE session. Although Gonzalez's report does not mention who won the majority in the City Council, Fleming underscored that everything was clarified at yesterday's Vienna session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Gonzalez's OSCE report explicitly states that the opposition coalition Zajedno won in another 13 cities in Serbia.

In his traditional Christmas message, the Patriarch of Serbian Orthodox Church, His Holiness Pavle reminds that in "the fourteenth century, emulating the best laws of Byzantium, Emperor Dusan set the foundations of the law for the then state of Serbia. He put law above himself... and ordered the judges to judge according to the law, without paying heed to who is who..." "That legal principle, dating back to 600 years ago, should be valid today, when democratic freedoms are being proclaimed everywhere. Respect for law and justice makes everyone obliged to respect the will of the people, preventing willful rule and violence which can bring nothing good to the state and the people," added the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Deafening noise was heard in many areas of Belgrade and Novi Sad at 7:30 last night, coinciding with the main news bulletin of the state-run RTS television. Radio B92 received numerous e-mails from listeners describing the atmosphere in the city. People banged on their kettles, drainpipes, window sills, cutlery, balcony rails, etc. trying to make as much noise as possible to symbolically drown out the RTS news bulletin, Many Belgraders put their radio loudspeakers on the windowsills of their apartments and "street- broadcast" Radio B92 programs instead.

Once again deafening noise was heard all over Belgrade at 7:30 PM, coinciding with the opening score of the main news bulletin of the state-run RTS television. And, once again, the noise was louder than on the previous days. Radio B92 has received numerous phone calls and e-mails from listeners, describing the atmosphere and the noise level in their neighborhoods. The guiding principle seems to be "the louder, the better." For the third day in a row, Belgraders came out this evening to bang on everything at hand, anything that might make enough noise to let their feelings be heard: kettles, cutlery, rails, drainpipes, pots and pans, metal boards... symbolically drowning out the sound of the RTS prime time news program which has been one of the regime's chief propaganda weapons.

Leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, Vuk Draskovic today called on the supporters of the coalition Zajedno to come to the protest march tomorrow in their cars or any other vehicles, i.e. to stage a "protest drive" through downtown Belgrade. Head of the Civil Alliance of Serbia, Vesna Pesic was not present at today's rally because she is visiting the city of Valjevo to attend the protest rally there. After the rally, the protesters went for a march up and down Belgrade's Knez Mihajlova Street, both a pedestrian zone and one of the city's main streets. Several hundred policemen with helmets, shields and bulletproof waists were on stand-by in surrounding streets.

The Democratic Party today released an official statement which warns that the ruling Socialist Party has introduced police rule in the country, as evidenced by the extremely heavy police presence in the cities where opposition protests have been held and where the police have begun blocking street demonstrations. The statement goes on to say, "What we, the opposition politicians, are asking the authorities, is this: why do they abuse and maltreat the police officers, who are aware that they are in the streets without any reason and that they are being abused for political reasons. The Democratic Party therefore calls on all members of the police to use their own judgment and not accept this abuse by the Socialist Party of Serbia."

Leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement Vuk Draskovic gave a statement for today's issue of the Belgrade daily Dnevni Telegraf in which, quoting unnamed but as he said reliable sources, Draskovic claimed that the Yugoslav Left's recommendations to President Milosevic which include a "final showdown with the fifth column and the re-establishment of communism at any cost."

From tonight on, and despite a police ban, protest marches will be organized in the city of Leskovac again. The coalition Zajedno has formally lodged an appeal with the police to allow citizens' protest marches on the routes announced in advance. They have not yet received any response. Today's protest rally in Leskovac was attended by more than a thousand people.

Today's issue of the daily Dnevni Telegraf reports that Nebojsa Covic, the Mayor of Belgrade, is stepping down because of his deep disagreement with the actions of his political party [the ruling SPS] and its coalition partner, the Yugoslav United Left (JUL). Covic is reported to be particularly unhappy with his inability to influence Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, whom he has repeatedly asked to desist from his policy of militant defiance of Serbia's democratic forces, and is said to have been considering his resignation ever since the election crisis began over a month ago.

While today's issue of the daily Dnevni Telegraf reports that Nebojsa Covic has resigned his post and is no longer the mayor of Belgrade, in its news bulletin tonight, the private BK television cited unnamed city officials who said that they know nothing of Covic's resignation and that the step "is not in his style."

Leader of the Democratic Party, Zoran Djindjic gave an interview to the German Hesse Radio in which he stated that the coalition Zajedno will boycott the presidential elections next year if President Milosevic does not recognize the opposition's victory in November 17 municipal elections, reports Reuters. Djindjic emphasized that yesterday's partial recognition of real electoral results is not enough and that the opposition has proof of its victory in 14 cities.

Coalition Zajedno today announced that "the letter of Milosevic's Foreign Minister Milutinovic contains not only a clear rejection of the OSCE decisions, but also an unprecedented act of insolence where Milutinovic asks the OSCE to deliver to him the data on the municipal elections in Serbia. Minister Milutinovic offers blatant lies -- perhaps he is poorly-informed -- but he conceals the fact that all the data are in the possession of the Electoral Commissions, themselves state organs.

American Secretary of State Warren Christopher yesterday sent a message to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in which he formulated the US position and its further plans regarding the post-electoral crisis in Serbia. Washington has unofficially confirmed that the message was composed after Christopher's consultation with Madelaine Albright, who is shortly to replace him as Secretary Of State.

France today officially stated that Belgrade's response to the OSCE constitutes a mere delay tactic and cannot be considered satisfactory, reports AFP.

In the opinion of the majority of Russian media, Srbian opposition forces have scored their first victory since the start of their anti-government protests 5 weeks ago. The state media also say that Milutinovic's letter to the OSCE is an attempt by the Serbian authorities to evade the demands made by the international community and offer small concession instead of a full implementation of Felipe Gonzalez's recommendations.

Today's issue of Czech daily Pravo said that "Milosevic has once again proved, by his partial recognition of the opposition victory, that he is a master of delay tactics. He hasn't got much space to maneuver left, however.

Lord Owen, former peace mediator for ex-Yugoslavia, gave an interview to the Belgrade weekly Vreme in which he stated that it is unlikely Milosevic will make a turn towards social democracy.

Slavisa Lekic, a veteran Belgrade journalist, has just issued a collection of the most interesting slogans from the protests in Serbia. Excerpts:
"I watch News on TV, and I've also taken to drugs."
"Beware of the dog: he watches RTS every day."
"Smile Serbia, You're on Candid Camera!"
"Shame on you, RTS! Signed, Goebels."
"WE are not mushrooms. Don't keep us in the dark and feed us shit."

Cedomir Jovanovic, member of the Steering Board of the Student Protest, today announced that, as of January 9, students will begin standing protests in front of the police cordons until the riot police are withdrawn from the streets. He also said that the students will ask for a meeting with the Interior Minister of Serbia Zoran Sokolovic in order to discuss provisions for safe marches down the city streets.

The Democratic Party asked Yugoslav President Zoran Lilic today to find out who and why "has occupied" Belgrade and put special police units on the streets.

Marko Dakic, presiding judge at the Court of Appeals in the city of Podgorica, commented on the Serbian judicial system for today's issue of the Montenegrin state-run daily Pobjeda: "What happened in Serbia concerning the local elections is a catastrophe for the legality of the state and for its people. Although there is no firm evidence, it seems that the courts in Serbia did not make their decisions properly. This has resulted in serious divisions among the judges themselves. Many of them disagree with the decisions of their colleagues and think that those rulings were irregular, unjust and directly influenced by powerful political figures."

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