News for December 25th, 1996

Despite poor weather conditions -- freezing temperatures, strong wind and snow -- dozens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets today to protest the nullification of the local electoral results. In the course of their march, they hurled snowballs at the building of the state television, breaking lower floor window- panes. At the 36th gathering on the Republic Square, Zajedno leaders congratulated Belgraders on having defended their city from the participants in the pro-Milosevic rally. Leader of the Democratic Party Zoran Djindjic called the state-owned media's reports on yesterday's events criminal, pointing out that some of the journalists should be sued for libel and malicious misinformation. Leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement Vuk Draskovic said that Belgraders yesterday averted the likelihood of a civil war and pre-empted future attempts at instigating one. He characterized Milosevic's speech as alarming, for it revealed there are "many more sinister intentions on his mind." Milosevic announced war to the Western world in his speech, said Draskovic. Zajedno leaders called on their supporters to continue with the peaceful protests up until the electoral results are reinstated.

Leader of the Democratic Party (DS) Zoran Djindjic told a press conference today that Belgraders managed to defend their city's dignity yesterday and that the authorities proved a factor of unrest, risk and instability. He added that Zajedno has received information that Milosevic is going to ban protests and said: "We have taken to the streets to defend law, truth and justice and we shall therefore continue our protest despite any bans."

The Steering Board of the Student Protest '96 sent a letter to President Milosevic blaming him for yesterday's violence in the streets of Belgrade. They held him responsible manipulating his ill-informed supporters and police forces in an attempt to provoke a situation which would give him a pretext to bring tanks into the streets of Belgrade as he did in 1991. They called on him to fulfill his promise to them to sort out the crisis while staying strictly within his legal and constitutional powers.

While most European newspapers are skipping their Dec. 25 issue in honor of Christmas, front pages of the leading French dailies carried news today of yesterday's dramatic events in Belgrade, reports for FoNet Mirko Klarin, correspondent of the daily "Nasa Borba." "Liberation," one of the most respected European dailies, founded by Albert Camus, said that two Serbias met face to face on Belgrade streets yesterday: one young and urban in a quest for change; the other worn-our and peasant, defending the status-quo. "Liberation" said it is thanks to the opposition leaders "who did everything to avert incidents," and also to the supporters of the democratic movement themselves, that the worst was avoided by a hair's breadth, leaving the authorities without any pretext to ban the protests. Foreign reporters were surprised at the unexpectedly low turn-out of Milosevic's supporters. According to Reuters, there were 40,000 of them; AP reports 50,000 and the most generous French press estimates "fewer than 100,000," noting that there were about three times as many Zajedno supporters who took to the streets yesterday. European media all noted that the local state-owned television did not hesitate to report half a million Milosevic's supporters.

All leading US dailies carried today front page reports on yesterday's events in Belgrade, reports for FoNet Slobodan Pavlovic, correspondent of "Nasa Borba." John Pomfret, writing for the "Washington Post," described yesterday as "a day eerily reminiscent of those leading up to the overthrow of Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his execution on Christmas Day 1989, [as] one opposition supporter was shot in the head by a man standing in a crowd of Milosevic loyalists, who had been bused into Belgrade by his Socialist Party of Serbia and supplied with sticks and metal rods." Rudolf Perina, Assistant Secretary of State and one of the main architects of the US policy towards Yugoslavia, told the CBS that Milosevic's was a true recipe for catastrophe, confirming US worries that the Serbian authorities had no intention of resolving the crisis issuing from the nullification of the electoral victories of November 17 in a peaceful manner. There were rumors in Washington yesterday of a possible cessation of diplomatic relations with Belgrade, which have in fact been reduced to a minimum for years now, in addition to unilateral economic sanctions the US have imposed on Yugoslavia.

Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement today in reaction to yesterday's events in Belgrade, reports FoNet's correspondent Branko Stosic. The statement, made public on Russian state television by Head of the Russian Department for Press and Information, Andrej Tarasov, said that the present crisis in Serbia must be overcome through political dialogue of all democratic forces in the country and urged avoidance of violence. Official Moscow stressed that any foreign interference into Serbia's internal affairs is unacceptable. Russia also reiterated its readiness to help strengthen stability in former Yugoslavia. Moscow again emphasized its belief that -- in the interest of peace in the Balkans and the whole of Europe -- the international community should help the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia out of the difficult consequences of the recent wars in the region, the sanctions imposed on FR Yugoslavia and its isolation by the international community.

The Chinese television reported of the rally at which Slobodan Milosevic spoke, which was the first information which the public was given of the events in Serbia in over a month. There was no mention of conflicts.

The Greek media state the mistake of Milosevic for organizing yesterday's counter rally. The weak response of his supporters shows the weakness of the regime.

The Romanian government condemned the Serbian authorities for the use of violence against the opposition protestors in Belgrade, and appealed for the the constrain of force in the resolving of the crises.

The Zajedno opposition coalition stated today that the counter- rally by the Socialist Party of Serbia in Belgrade cost 1,386,000 Deutche Marks according to the estimates for fuel, train fares, daily fees (20 Deutche marks on average) and meal costs. The estimate did not include the cost of the banners and other propaganda material.

A statement by the Association of Free and Independent Unions (ASNS) said today: "The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) has tried to deliberately provoke a civil war in our country by the counter- rally they staged in Belgrade, the 'war' speech Milosevic delivered, the heavy injuries inflicted on Zajedno supporters, the club-beating of forty-year-olds and the provoking of fights and riots among the citizens of Serbia. SPS has thereby taken the responsibility for the suppression of people's free will expressed in the local elections of November 17 and of the continuous protests in major cities of Serbia."

"The magnificent rally of Serbian citizens [yesterday] confirmed that Serbia is based on the ideals of peace, freedom and independence and that it opposes terrorism," said a statement by the Managing Board of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) today. "Serbia gave its full support to President Slobodan Milosevic and sent a clear message that a foreign hand shall never rule it... Zajedno leaders, ordering the squads of their aggressive terrorist groups, showed Serbian citizens and the whole world that their policy is a scramble for power regardless of the price they have to pay.

Former Interior Minister Radmilo Bogdanovic told the newsagency Beta he did not see any riots in Belgrade yesterday. "I don't watch the CNN. I only watch our television," he explained.

At its session today, the Nis Electoral Commission ratified mandates of 8 more Socialist representatives in the City Assembly. The vice-president of the Democratic Party's Nis City Board told Radio B92 the commission announced that the presidents of electoral boards will confirm the changes that have been made in the electoral minutes by signing them. Thus the claim by the president of the Nis Electoral Commission that the results have been retailored in the polling stations and not during sessions held by the commission will be ratified by a criminal act.

Since opposition representatives have refused to join the discussion on organizing the Parliamentary panel proposed at a recent session of the Serbian Parliament, the decisions concerning such a panel were unanimously made by two representatives of the Socialists and the New Democracy Party, notoriously close to the governing circles. The two of them agreed that the decisions of the panel should be made by consensus, that representatives should rotate in chairing the discussions, and that the sessions should be broadcast live by the state-owned television. The two gave the opposition parties till Friday to hand in their proposals on how the panel should operate and what issues it ought to consider. Asked whether he thought a two-member panel made any sense, the New Democracy representative said: "We should be patient and wait for the other parties to reply."

Interior Ministry Department of Nis stated today that an explosive device was thrown at the building housing the Nis Municipal Board of the Socialist Party of Serbia around 3 a.m. today. The explosion damaged the entrance and a part of the foyer of the building. The police are looking for the perpetrator and attempting to identify the type of explosive used.

The Yugoslav Drama Theater, Atelier 212 and the National Theater canceled their performances last night in protest against yesterday's violent events in Belgrade. A statement by the Association of Drama Artists of Serbia said today: "We believe that physical confrontations and street scuffles are the last step preceding a tragedy just waiting to happen. We urge the theaters in Serbia to cancel their performances for December 25."

Rade Vailic, M.D. of the Urgentni Centar medical center in Belgrade stated today that 58 injured people injured in yesterday's demonstrations have been admitted to the center and that Ivica Lazovic, who was wounded yesterday is still in critical condition. Vasilic said that the first demonstrators were admitted yesterday between 12 pm and 1 pm, and the last around 11 pm.

Vojislav Kostunica, President of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) stated today that Slobodan Milosevic is the "fifth column in Serbia" . The president stated that his view is confirmed in the speech of the Montenegrin Prime Minister, Milo Djukanovic "which places Montenegro in the position of Slovenia at the time of its secession". This Montenegrin persuasion can not be objected neither in a constitutional nor in a political sense.

Today the city parliament was constituted in Kragujevac, which verified 41 mandates of the coalition Zajedno, 22 mandates of the Socialist Party of Serbia, two mandates of JUL and one of the Serbian Radical Party.

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia stated at yesterday's counter-rally of the regime is "a political provocation for the citizens who have been peacefully protesting for the past month against the electoral manipulations." The Helsinki Committee demanded that the responsibility for the incidents be established.

The president of the Social-Democratic League of Vojvodina, Nenad Canak said today that "the regime of Slobodan Milosevic is provoking street conflicts in order to have an excuse to introduce an even stricter police dictatorship". The president of the National Farmers' Party, Dragan Veselinov accused the authorities of invading the neutral position of the workers in the government companies, because they were brought to the rally of support of Slobodan Milosevic.

The President of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) Vuk Draskovic accused the Socialist Party of Serbia of being responsible for the wounding of Ivica Lazovic, member of SPO in Kneza Milosa Street in Belgrade. "We have a picture which clearly shows who shot whom, and how", said Draskovic at a press conference. He also said that there are photographs of other people bearing arms.

Slavko Goldstajn, Croatian publisher stated today for Beta that an independent weekly will appear in Croatia, most likely under the name "Tjednik". According to Goldstajn the now Croatian weekly will give great importance to the happenings in Bosnia and Serbia". When asked to comment the present events in Serbia, he answered that the student protest in Belgrade gave him great hope and that the creation of ideas of pluralism is happening and the distancing of nationalistic phobias and obsessions.

Vesna Pesic, president of the Civil Alliance of Serbia said at the protest gathering of 8,000 citizens of Kraljevo that manipulated people with pictures of Slobodan Milosevic were in Belgrade the yesterday.

A few thousand of students of the University in Novi Sad gathered this afternoon in front of the building of the Provincial Board of the Socialist Party of Serbia to protest the violence which occurred in Belgrade. Today's protest in Novi Sad was ended with running around the Square of Freedom in the center of the city. The bystanders were shown the "prison circle" which Serbia is in at the moment.

The Student Alliance of Belgrade sent a letter to President Milosevic in which they express their "unreserved support" of the speech the president gave yesterday at the rally organized by the Socialist Party of Serbia, stated the media in Belgrade.
"Dear Mr. President,
We felt the need to write a letter of unreserved support, concerning the speech you gave yesterday. We cannot express the joy we felt after hearing the speech you gave, in which you gave special attention to the young people and us students", it is stated in the letter.

The police still do not allow the self-organized interruption of traffic and will have to intervene in case the demonstrators do not follow regulations while exercising their right of peaceful demonstrations, stated the ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia. The moment when the prohibition starts was not specified.

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