News for January 7th, 1997

Several hundred thousand Belgraders gathered last night in front of St. Sava Church in Belgrade to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas Eve. Head of the Serbian Church, Patriarch Pavle addressed the crowd and wished them well, saluting them with "the ancient greeting used by our ancestors: God's Peace, Christ Is Born." He then proceeded to light the oak branches which are the traditional Serbian equivalent of the Yule log. Although they appeared together with the Patriarch, Zajedno leaders and the leaders of the Student Protest did not address the crowds. The majority of those attending were participants of Zajedno rallies and student protests.

Serbian Patriarch His Holiness Pavle delivered the morning Christmas service in Belgrade's main Cathedral today. The service was followed by a reading of his Christmas epistle. The text of his Christmas letter to the nation proclaims that any state should be based on the principles of justice and truth, reports FoNet.

This Christmas Eve saw the 50th straight protest rally in Nis, which took place immediately following the public celebration of the birth of Christ. The citizens of Nis were addressed by Rev. Rasa, who wished them Peace on Earth and a merry Christmas. Risto Bukvic then invited the already swelling crowd to form a procession. At the head of the procession were lines of men and women carrying the consecrated oak branches as well as Serbian flags. The crowd walked to the Cathedral, where they were addressed by the head of the Nis bishopric, Archbishop Irinei.

Today's issue of The Independent said that the officers and members of elite regiments of the Yugoslav Army are not prepared to support Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic if he orders the army to move against the demonstrators, reports AFP. "If Milosevic ordered a show-down, I would be prepared to shoot him," the daily quoted an unnamed commander of a tank brigade. The British daily also claims that Yugoslav Army forces have confirmed that half the officers and the majority of its recruits support the demonstrators and would do anything in their power to avert bloodshed and political repression in Serbia.

Zoran Djindjic, leader of the DS, demanded that the West step up its pressure on Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, reports AFP. Djindjic told the German radio Saarland that Western states should back the demands of the Serbian opposition for reinstatement of the November 17 local electoral results. He said it is unlikely that he will travel to Washington to attend US President Bill Clinton's inauguration on January 20 because his place is in Belgrade as long as the daily protest rallies continue.

In the last month and a half, throughout the period marked by anti-government demonstrations against the regime's nullification of local electoral results in Serbia, Internet's importance as the global computer network has been amply confirmed, reads an article in the latest issue of the Czech weekly "Tiden," reports FoNet. The weekly focused on the role played by the Internet in circumventing the information blockade which could otherwise have arisen from the banning of some independent radio stations in Serbia. Their news services were promptly moved onto the Internet and distributed over an Amsterdam server. The article went on to say that 2 servers have been established in Belgrade itself, providing information on the protests.

Today's issue of Montenegrin daily Pobjeda said that renewed international isolation of Yugoslavia would be much tougher and have far more fatal consequences than the previous one. The daily also points out that "judging by the statements made by numerous political figures in the West, if the OSCE commission's report does not receive a constructive and sensible response from the Serbian authorities, isolation is on the way."

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic again met with Belgrade's Mayor Nebojsa Covic (also a leading member of the SPS) yesterday and tried to persuade him (for the third time in the last four days) not to give up his office as mayor. Dnevni Telegraf cannot confirm what arguments Milosevic may have put forward, but its sources claim that Covic returned from the meeting in conspicuously better spirits and considerably more optimistic. Dnevni Telegraf's well-informed source claims that Covic did not change any of his demands: recognition of the second electoral round, changes in the SPS leadership and its distancing from JUL.

For the last few days, the Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti has been showing signs of a completely new editorial policy. Today's issue, for example, endeavors to give as objective a picture as possible of the demonstrations and traffic jams in Belgrade, and reports on the meetings the students have had with the army Chief of Staff and Serbia's Interior Minister. It even has an article on Europe's views on the current crisis, carried under the title "Decision by the OSCE Legally Impeccable."

Foreign diplomats in Belgrade fear that the police might take action against the demonstrators in the next few days, following the New Year's and Christmas holidays. Milosevic is losing authority by the hour among the army ranks, the police, his Socialist party and even the undecided segment of the public. His credibility in the West has almost vanished, said an unnamed diplomat, adding that Milosevic will feel compelled to stop this one way or the other. Tensions rose sharply after last night's explosion in front of the JUL headquarters. Foreign diplomats tend to believe that the explosion was set off by members of this same neo-communist party, with the aim of forcing the authorities to ban public meetings in city squares altogether.

Speaker of the Montenegrin Parliament Svetozar Marovic told Radio Budva that Montenegrin representatives might stay out of the Federal Parliament until "the electoral crisis in Serbia has been resolved democratically." He stressed that the developments in Serbia were of grave concern to Montenegro, since the whole of FR Yugoslavia is paying a steep price for it.

After dozens of thousands of Zajedno supporters had gathered in Republic Square today, the crowd went to greet the several thousand strong police cordons deployed around the square. The encounter was rather tense, at first, but the atmosphere seemed to loosen up when the police realized that the demonstrators wanted to wish them a merry Christmas. Asked whether he managed to wish a merry Christmas to any of the police, Zoran Djindjic told a Radio B92 reporter: "I did so to one or two of them. The rest looked at us blankly and were fairly reserved. It was obvious they weren't sure whether we were going to try and break through their cordon."

The prime-time news of the state controlled television (RTS) have again been overpowered tonight by the noise made by various imaginative tools in Belgrade, Novi Sad and other cities.

The Communist Alliance Movement for Yugoslavia said today Zajedno is responsible for the explosion in JUL headquarters, comparing the act to the burning of Reichstag.


Radio B92 learned today from the Democratic Party vice-president in Nis, Zoran Zivkovic, that Zajedno today obtained a copy of the falsified electoral minutes and has already brought a legal suit against the Leskovac Electoral Commission members.

Students of the University of Nis will hold a mock "commemorative service for the Nis City Assembly" tomorrow. For this occasion, the city has been covered with obituary notices sporting black five-pointed stars and saying that tomorrow "will be 40 days since the passing away of our beloved Nis City Assembly."

Kragujevac Mayor Veroljub Stevanovic told several thousand gathered citizens of Kragujevac that 2 new churches will be built in this city.

Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party, and Vojislav Kostunica, leader of the DSS congratulated today the Republic of Srpska on its State Day, January 9. Djindjic told the news agency SRNA that since Serbs are one nation, the future will see similar organizations developing in Serbia and the Republic of Srpska. He said that by getting their own institutions, Serbs will be able to show that they are a democratic nation whose independent, unambiguous and progressive decisions will allow them to re-enter Europe and the civilized world. Kostunica pointed out that this year is likely to bring some major tasks with it, especially those related to the local elections in Bosnia. Kostunica expressed his belief that the Serbian people and the Republic of Srpska leadership will build and steer their state successfully.

The National Committee of the US Democratic Party has confirmed that the leaders of Zajedno and a representative of the University of Belgrade Student Protest 96/97 have been invited to Washington to attend the second inaugural ceremony of US President Bill Clinton on January 20, reports for FoNet Slobodan Pavlovic. The State Department said that the invitation to Vuk Draskovic, Zoran Djindjic, Vesna Pesic, and student representative Dragan Vasiljevic was one of the concrete signs of US support for the democratic breakthrough in Serbia, begun after Serbian President Milosevic had refused to recognize the opposition's victories in local elections in Serbia.

"Two consecutive days of huge demonstrations suggest that Milosevic's strategy of playing for time, in the hope that the protests will peter out, is not working. Instead, the opposition shows every sign of being reinvigorated by the holiday festivities and is planning new ways of embarrassing the regime," reads an article in today's issue of The Washington Post.

Serbian opposition and the mass movement of civil resistance to the authorities have received a strong and open support from the Serbian Patriarch, and an indirect one from the army Chief-of- Staff, report Russian media. Branko Stosic reports for FoNet that the Belgrade correspondent of the Russian newsagency ITAR-TAS, Tatjana Zamjatina in a special report for the Russian television network NTV says that in the light of these events, the Serbian President can be expected to offer new concessions. The huge turn- outs of demonstrators for the New Year and Christmas Eves show that partial concessions will not satisfy the Serbian public, said the report. Moscow TV and radio stations, however, focus on the explosion in the JUL headquarters, the third terrorist action in a month directed against the left coalition. Tatjana Zamjetina observed in her report that this could be a provocation at the hands of the left coalition itself.

The political crisis in Serbia will be on the agenda of the meeting of European Union representatives which is to take place during the next three days in the Hague. A meeting of the Working Group for former Yugoslavia is scheduled for tomorrow and a session of the EU Political Committee is expected to take place over Thursday and Friday, reports for FoNet Mirko Klarin. Apart from insisting on "complete and urgent" implementation of all recommendations by Gonzalez's mission, the Hague meetings are expected to express strong solidarity of the EU with the democratic movement in Serbia as well as examine the means which the EU can use to put pressure on the Belgrade regime.

Reuters reported today that Romanian President Emil Constantinescu called on the Serbian authorities to recognize the November local electoral results and avoid further aggravation of the crisis, reports FoNet. A statement by the President's cabinet urged the Yugoslav authorities to accept the recommendations by the OSCE to acknowledge the contended electoral results. Constantinescu warned that the Romanian experience "has shown that halfway measures in solving the situation can only raise the political and social costs," that have to be paid eventually.

The Hungarian Democratic Forum, a parliamentary party which governed Hungary in the first post-communist mandate, issued a statement today concerning the present developments in Serbia, reports for FoNet Dragan Jakovljevic. Leader of the party Sandor Lesak announced that he will visit Belgrade to have talks with Zajedno leaders, whose just struggle, he said, his party fully supports. Lesak told the press conference that in a letter to Alois Mock, Chairman of the European Democratic Union, he urged that all democratic forces in Europe which are members of this association back the Belgrade demonstrators.

The second protest evening named "Why I participate in the demonstrations" will take place tomorrow in the Association of Literary Artists of Serbia (UKS) at 19:00. Alek Vukadinovic, Mihajlo Djuric, Dragan Nedeljkovic, Predrag Dragic Kijuk, Zarko Trebjesanin, Leon Koen, Svetlana Stipcevic, Miroslav Egeric, Ducko Novakovic and Zoran Gluscevic will present their speaches and opinions, as is stated in the announcement of the UKS which was delivered to FoNet.

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