News for January 6th, 1997

A great uproar of public disapproval greeted an article in today's issue of the state-owned daily Ekspres Politika claiming that Predrag Starcevic, who died after the Socialist counter-rally in Belgrade held on December 24, had succumbed to a heart-attack and that he had been critically intoxicated. "Predrag Starcevic died of injuries inflicted by blows made using mechanical tools," stated head of the post-mortem commission who examined Starcevic's body, Branimir Aleksandric, Ph. D. Med. Sci. Rejecting the "Politika Ekspres" allegations, he said that the numerous internal injuries as well as those visible on Starcevic's body were produced by heavy blows with blunt mechanical tools. He rejected the claim that Starcevic's blood contained 3 promiles of alcohol -- the amount was 0.8 promiles, according to Prof. Aleksandric, which puts it in the category of "very light intoxication."

The information service of the Yugoslav Army Headquarters has issued a statement on the meeting its Chief of Staff, colonel general Momcilo Perisic, had with a 4-member delegation of the Student Protest 96/97 at the request of the students: "The students presented general Perisic with an overview of the goals and means of their peaceful protest and with the demands they had put forward [to the government]. General Perisic stressed the army's role in upholding the constitution of FR Yugoslavia. He also emphasized the army's strong interest in the attempts to overcome the present problems, as soon as possible, through the legal institutions of the Yugoslav system and in a manner practiced in democratic countries, so that FR Yugoslavia can be promptly returned to the international community as an equal member in good standing."

Spokesman for the Student Protest 96/97, Dusan Vasiljevic said today that Serbian Interior Minister Zoran Sokolovic emphasized in their meeting this afternoon that the police will uphold the law, as they have done so far. A student delegation paid a visit to the minister earlier today.

The news that the Chief of Staff at the Supreme Headquarters of the Yugoslav Army, colonel general Momcilo Perisic received a student delegation today had a prominent place in the news shows in the US, reports for FoNet Slobodan Pavlovic. A report by the US National Public Radio pointed out that in March 1991 Milosevic sent tanks on students instead of negotiating with them, and now the top military brass are holding talks with the demonstrators and thus indirectly giving them support.

Europe's initial estimate of the statement issued by the Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff after his talks today with a delegation from the Student Protest 96/97 is that the Yugoslav army has now given indirect support to the democratic movement, Mirko Klarin reports for FoNet. Although he did not directly side with the opposition, the commanding officer of the Yugoslav military forces has effectively joined its criticisms of the regime, especially concerning its nullification of local electoral results, and endorsed its demands for the respect of internationally recognized democratic principles, assess European reporters and analysts.

The distribution of presents to the children of Belgrade began in Republic Square at 6 p.m. this evening, and was followed by a special Orthodox Christmas Eve arts program for children. Huge numbers of Belgraders, joined this time by the students of the UofB, flooded the square in front of the St. Sava Church, where Serbian Patriarch His Holiness Pavle lit the traditional Yule log just after 22:00, after he had saluted the crowds and wished them a merry Christmas. The students and the supporters of Zajedno coalition held a joint walk to the church from the city center. The ceremony was over by 23:00.

Dusan Vasiljevic, spokesman of the Student Protest 96/97 will visit US President Bill Clinton on January 20. The Belgrade press reports that the invitation to a representative of the Student Protest 96/97 came from the White House and that it has already been accepted, as announced at the press conference held by the students' Steering Board yesterday.
Coalition Zajedno's press office reports that President Clinton has issued a similar invitation to its leaders Vesna Pesic, Zoran Djindjic and Vuk Draskovic as well.

On behalf of the Church Council and the Brethren of Hilandar, head of the monastery of Hilandar, Archbishop Mojsije Zarkovic sent a Christmas greeting to the students of Serbia today. "From the ancient monastery of Hilandar and the Holy Mount of Aton, we greet you with the proclamation, 'Christ is born!' May this Good News come to you, also, the spiritually awakening youth of Serbia, and to those who call to the eternal Christ with open hearts in the capital and all across Serbia. Christ was hidden from your eyes and souls for over half a century by the forces of darkness," said the message to "the youth of Serbia: the hope, the conscience and the future of its people."

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel demanded today that Serbian President Milosevic acknowledge the opposition victory in the local elections in 14 towns and municipalities across Serbia. Reuters reports that Kinkel warned Milosevic that a refusal by the Socialist Party of Serbia to acknowledge their defeat in all the large cities, including Belgrade, could result in further isolation of Yugoslavia from Europe, reports FoNet.

In an interview he gave to the Austrian newsagency APA last weekend, Deputy Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic stressed that Belgrade's reply to the OSCE demands was perfectly clear. He said that, after its additional explanations, the OSCE position is now much clearer and that the Serbian and Yugoslav state institutions will now deal with these issues democratically and with full respect for the will of the people. Radio B92 has learned from Melissa Fleming, OSCE spokeswoman, that the permanent council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will give Minister Milutinovic's letter a thoroughgoing examination on January 16.

As Radio B92 discovers from the representatives of the "Zajedno" coalition in Lapovo, by the decision of the Supreme Court the decision of the Municipal Court has been annuled, and three mandates have been returned to the "Zajedno" coalition. Presently, the "Zajedno" coalition has 16 mandates in Lapovo, and SPS has 13.

The Nis Electoral Commission sent a reply today to the Nis Municipal Court regarding the complaints by the SPS and Zajedno. A Zajedno representative on the commission told Radio B92 that the letter confirms the Commission's intent to call fresh elections for 17 deputy seats.

Some 5,000 students turned out in front of the University of Nis, carrying Yule logs to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas Eve today. This morning, trustees of the monastery of Hilandar brought presents for the students from the monastery: the traditional Yule log, wine, flat-bread, honey, oil, candles and olive branches, together with the greetings and a blessing from the Hilandar monks. The students were read a Christmas message received from the monastery. After the gathering, the students set out for a protest march, led by a group carrying the presents from Hilandar. The march ended just before 5 p.m., when the students joined their fellow-citizens in lighting the Yule logs in front of the Nis Cathedral.

Deans of 9 schools of the University of Belgrade sent a letter today to Serbian President Milosevic, chairman of the Serbian Parliament Dragan Tomic and Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic. The letter reads among other things: "The authorities of the Republic of Serbia should accept the fundamental demand by the Student Protest '96 which now boils down to the acknowledgment of the November 17 local electoral results, as interpreted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe." The letter was signed by the deans of 9 schools of the University of Belgrade: the Schools of Architecture, Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, Transportation, Technology and Metallurgy, the School of Philosophy and the School of Chemistry, reports FoNet. Deans also sent a joint reply to the Serbian Ministry of Education saying that the cause behind the suspension of lectures at the University's Schools is of "outside character," and expressing their willingness to organize lectures "the moment these outside causes are removed."

Zoran Djindjic, one of Zajedno's leaders and head of the DS, told the German radio station ARD that the opposition in Serbia aims to overthrow President Milosevic's government without any use of violence, and that this is "perhaps the last chance to do this peacefully."

The coalition Zajedno stated today that they have uncovered the identities of both those who ordered and those who carried out the attack on the citizens in downtown Belgrade on December 27, 1996. "The Serbian Interior Ministry forces ordered that the attacks be carried out by a special anti-terrorist squad, whose members wear black as well as blue uniforms and plainclothes, as was the case on December 27," said Zajedno's statement today.

Zajedno leaders called tonight on Serbian people to practise non- violent "civil self-defense" against the authorities' acts of aggression.

Tonight saw perhaps the most vigorous action so far in the campaign to symbolically silence the RTS prime time news show. In fact, tonight's news show was observed to have been conspicuously shorter than usual. Apart from Belgrade, deafening noise was also raised by the residents of Novi Sad.

Several thousand residents of Leskovac, all of them Zajedno sympathizers, defied the police ban tonight and went for a march through the city's downtown core.

Although it is reported that Serbian President Milosevic has sent Christmas greetings to Serbian Patriarch His Holiness Pavle, the Belgrade media have not yet published the contents of his letter.

Today's letter by Yugoslav President Zoran Lilic to Serbian Patriarch Pavle reads: "I wish you, and the clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church and all Orthodox believers, a merry Christmas. May this magnificent Christian festivity pass in the spirit of peace and prosperity, understanding and mutual respect by all in the interests of preserving the spiritual values and unity of the Serbian people."

In his Christmas message, leader of the Serbian Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj, said that "in the forthcoming year we must do our best to mitigate the consequences of the national tragedy."

"We wish everyone happy holidays spent in joy with their beloved ones, and that unity and faith in their country mark the year to come," said the letter signed by JUL spokesman, Aleksandar Vulin.

Serbian President Milosevic has so far discarded so many ideologies that it would not come as a surprise if he used the right moment to join the anti-government protests in Serbia, said today's editorial in the most influential Czech daily Mlada Fronta-Dnes, reports FoNet.

All the television stations in Belgrade gave reports about the yesterday's protest of the Belgrade citizens and supporters of the oppositional coalition "Zajedno", during which all the traffic in and around the city center was blocked for approximately two hours in their prime-time news programs last night. The state-controlled television - The Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS), which can be viewed in all the parts of the country, informed that the supporters of the "Zajedno" coalition responded to the invitation of the leaders of this coalition to come to the protest by car, but estimated, as well, that the citizens "only blocked themselves" and that all this was intended for the "external factors to embarass Serbia". The report had parts of the sentences from the speach made by Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement the day before yesterday, which were pulled out of context and assembled with the questions that the RTS reporter asked himself.

Dnevni Telegraf reports on yesterday's mobile protest: "This bit of spectacle on wheels took place yesterday at a central Belgrade junction around 4 p.m., when the opposition supporters stage- managed a car crash and the traffic police tried to regulate the traffic. The pedestrians stubbornly stood in the middle of the junction, blew on their whistles and chanted calls for the police to investigate the 'traffic accident.'

There was an explosion tonight in the courtyard separating the two buildings housing the offices of Yugoslav United Left (JUL). It is believed that an explosive device was thrown into the courtyard, reports Radio B92's reporter on the scene. There was some visible damage to the buildings' facades and window-panes, but so far there appear to be no casualties. The city police have said they will issue a statement regarding this incident some time later.

On her second day in Belgrade, Bibi Anderson, one of Sweden's most respected theater and film actresses and member of the Swedish Human Rights Watch, held a press conference in Belgrade at which she explained that the main reason for her visit here was quite simple: she knew that something of utmost importance was going on here, the opening up of an entire society. Asked whether she knew that a "driving protest" would be cruising the city later that afternoon, Anderson replied enthusiastically: "Of course, I will be in one of those cars." As for her impressions of the "Noise Is All the Rage" protest action and the previous day's rally, Bibi Anderson replied that Belgrade has created an astounding "poetics of rebellion."

Miroslav Radisavljevic, the newly named director of the National Theater in Nis, who was appointed to this position shortly before the elections and without the consent of the City Parliament, banned the reading of the protest letter by the dramatic artists of Belgrade on the opening of "The unpure blood" which took place on the eve of the past holidays. This caused complaints and the discord among the employees of the theater. The letter was, nevertheless, read in one of the intermissions, but the conflict, which continued behind the scenes, developed into a physical settlement between the director and the actors. After the conclusion of the play, Verica Jovanovic, the theater's leading actress, confronted herself with Radisavljevic and slapped him in front of their collleagues. "Only one ticket was sold for the night-before-yesterday's performance of 'The unpure blood' ", says actor Risto Bukvic.

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