News for December 27th, 1996
Belgrade police used force against several hundred citizens in downtown Belgrade this afternoon after the Zajedno coalition rally was over. After special forces had dispersed citizens, a little after 17:00 in front of the Balkan hotel at Terazije, a group of plain clothes men pulled out nightsticks and clubs and started beating the demonstrators and citizens who were standing on the side walk near- by. Reports from the spot said several citizens remained lying on the ground and at least one was taken unconscious in an ambulance. Several of the injured headed for the Democratic Party headquarters, a twelve-year-old girl among them. These thugs in civilian clothes attacked two cameramen, as well as a number of other reporters and one member of the Main Committee of the Student Protest. The policemen in uniforms did not interfere. Across the street, in front of hotel "Casina", a man was brutally beaten only ten meters away from the police van.
Slobodan Homen and Nebojsa Jeftic, members of the Student Protest leadership, were beaten today by men in civilian clothes with police clubs, announced the Information Center of the Student Protest.
Oleg Chupin, Russian independent television NTV's cameraman told the AFP news agency that he was beaten by the Serbian police forces tonight, and that his camera was broken. "When anti-government demonstrators were starting to disperse, I saw, 15 meters away from me, near the hotel "Moskva", a young man running away from a policeman, who was hitting him with a club. I started to shoot the scene, thus turning my back to the police who were monitoring the demonstrations. Suddenly, my whole body was showered with blows, and I fell. The policemen grabbed my camera, threw it on the ground and kept kicking it until it broke", Cupin said, adding "I started to flee, shocked, and got a few more fair-well blows. I returned later, to get my camera, but it was completely destroyed." The incident happened in the very center of Belgrade.
Nikola Majdak, a cameraman for B92's TV production team, and Rade Radovanovic, reporter of the Radio B92, were also beaten over the head by plain clothes policemen. Radovanovic and Majdak were taken to hospital afterwards.
Djordje Nikolic, the cameraman of the Australian state television (ORF), was beaten today in front of hotel "Moskva" and his camera was damaged, stated the reporters of the ORF. Nikolic was beaten by police officers while he was doing his job. He was taken to the Trauma Center.
Concerning yesterday's events, coalition Zajedno states that several people were hurt by the police last night. One of the incidents happened when the police intervened to prevent people from their usual walkabout in downtown Belgrade. Zajedno characterizes that intervention as "unprovoked and unnecessary," especially because the demonstrators were just about to go home. The Coalition has also stated that criminal charges will be brought against all the policemen who beat the citizens. The policemen who used force on the citizens were shot by television cameras and photographed, whereas the Legal Board of the "Zajedno" Coalition has gathered information from eye-witnesses so that the policemen who beat the citizens could be identified and prosecuted.
Coalition Zajedno stated tonight that 15 were injured in the police intervention at 17:15 tonight. They said the special police forces that blocked the city centre intervened against citizens looking-on in the Terazije Square. Plain clothes policemen who were among the citizens beat up on them, wounding 15, one of which seriously. Zajedno's statement warned members of the police forces not to use force against citizens and that criminal suits will be brought against those who have done so.
Rade Vasilic, Deputy Manager of Belgrade's Trauma Center, told the Beta news agency that two persons, who were slightly wounded during the demonstrations in Belgrade, were admitted to this institution yesterday. He also said that the condition of Ivica Lazovic, who was shot in the head during the riots that took place on December 24th in Belgrade, is "still very critical" and that Lazovic is "lying without consciousness in the intensive care ward." Vasilic confirmed that 58 wounded people were brought to the Trauma Center after the riots, but that only five were retained for further medical treatment.
The Serbian ministry of the interior sent today an order to the Student Protest Steering Board to the effect that the police will no longer tolerate "self-willed blocking of traffic" by the students, for, as the order stated, it is causing damage to other citizens and the economy. The Steering Board replied that Student Protest '96 will carry on as usual and if the police continue to prevent its walkabouts, the students will find a way of showing the citizens of Belgrade that they are still protesting.
Police forces prevented several thousand UofB students from marching in the streets of Belgrade. The students, who had gathered in front of the School of Philosophy, were surrounded on all sides by heavily armed riot squads. The Steering Board then had the students walk in circles, prisoner-style, in the space dividing the student column from the police cordons. The student security people did physical exercises (alluding to prison exercises) and students offered chocolates to the policemen.
Leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement Vuk Draskovic called on the dozens of thousands Belgraders gathered today in the Republic Square at -10 degrees Centigrade to attend tomorrow's funeral of Predrag Starcevic, who died last Tuesday of injuries sustained in a clash with Slobodan Milosevic's supporters. During the protest, several thousand-strong riot squad police, some of them carrying automatic rifles, were deployed along the side walks of downtown Belgrade. The heavy police presence resulted in a complete blockage of traffic in that part of the Serbian capital.
Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez announced today that the opposition coalition Zajedno had in fact won in the local elections in 13 cities in Serbia as well in 9 Belgrade districts, reports Reuters. In the report, Gonzalez called on the OSCE to "urgently demand" that the Yugoslav authorities and political forces respect the will of the people as expressed in the elections. Despite several reservations and objections he had against it, Gonzalez estimated that the Yugoslav electoral system is capable of showing the will of the majority of the electorate. According to him, there is no doubt about the electoral results in the rest of the municipalities, i.e. those where the electoral results have not been contested, as well as that the members of the left coalition had won a majority of votes.
Dragor Hiber, the legal consultant of the "Zajedno" Coalition stated this evening that the report of the OSCE delegation confirms that the Coalition won the majority in the City Assembly of Belgrade and in eight Belgrade municipalities. The OSCE delegation announced, by mistake, that the "Zajedno" Coalition won the elections in nine Belgrade municipalities. Hiber added that the Coalition had already sent an application to the OSCE delegation asking that the mistake in that part of the report should be corrected.
Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic stated today that his first impression on reading the OSCE's report is that it is good, constructive and well-balanced. Nevertheless, he found there are many elements in it to be examined. Main points -- that the report urges a dialogue "within the system" and that the elections "were held in good order and that the majority of the people could cast their votes," that the left coalition won majority of votes -- are definitely clear. But the part that said that the oppostion had won in some municipalities, said Milutinovic, showed that "the delegation had mixed their pots(?!), for they could not handle all details in 24 hours." He said the report is to be taken as a preliminary rather than a final one, for it is yet to be discussed by the OSCE's institutions.
Official France called on Serbian President Milosevic to accept the recommendations by the OSCE and acknowledge the victory of the opposition in all the major cities of Serbia, warning him at the same time to abstain from the use of force. France completely supports all the suggestions put forward by Felipe Gonzalez, and warns Serbian authorities that only if these suggestions were accepted "Yugoslavia would evade the risk of losing the chance for its reintegration in the International Community."
United States of America condemned the authorities in Belgrade for restricting civil and democratic rights of the people of Serbia, reminding that thwarting demonstrations in the capital can only increase the danger of confrontations and violence, reports Slobodan Pavlovic, correspondent of "Nasa Borba" for FoNet. The American Government is appealing to the President to start solving the crisis by acknowledging the legitimate results of the local elections which took place on November 17th and by negotiating with the opposition and enabling everyone to take their legally attained positions in the local governments. "It is not the US that are isolating Serbia, it is its government's actions", it is concluded in today's State Department's report.
Chairman of the EU Ministerial Council, Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring expressed European Union's concern over the possible reaction by the Serbian authorities against the wave of street protests in Belgrade. He warned them not to use force against the demonstrators. Spring expressed gravest concern over the latest developments in Belgrade, where the authorities have threatened to forcibly crush the peaceful opposition protests which have been going on for almost five weeks now.
A statement issued by the British Foreign Office today said the British Government was appalled by the violence used against the peaceful demonstrations in Belgrade, and by the police brutality which has resulted in one death so far. Such actions can only damage the chances the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has of bettering its relations with the international community, reports AFP. It is pointed out in the statement that London is "deeply concerned" with the events in Serbia.
Canadian Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy said today Canada holds Belgrade authorities responsible for the escalation of violence in Belgrade. He called on both sides to exert self-restraint and tolerance, reports AFP. Axworthy expressed deep concern because of the fact that tens of people were hurt during the street demonstrations on Wednesday. He criticized the conduct of the Government in Belgrade and stressed that organizing the pro-government rally at the same place and at the same time with the rally of the opposition represent a provocation which could have and should have been avoided.
Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini called on Belgrade today to accept the OSCE's recommendations, reports Reuters. Italian Foreign Ministry issued a separate statement saluting the OSCE's recommendations for the opposition victories to be restored and an agreement between the authorities and the opposition in Serbia on democratic changes to be reached.
European Commissioner Hans Van Den Broek congratulated the democratic majority of Serbia on its courage, restraint, reslove and sensibility in the present crisis. He said that President Milosevic can end the international diplomatic isolation only by restoring the local electoral results. Otherwise the erosion of his credibility will rapidly erode.
President of the Socialists of Belgrade and lecturer at the School of Public Engineering, Branislav Ivkovic, sent a letter to student protesters calling on the principles of democracy and inviting them to a round of, as he stressed, friendly talks. The reply by the Steering Board of the Student Protest '96 reminded Ivkovic of the occasion when he rejected their calls for maximum tolerance and restraint before the pro-Milosevic rally last Tuesday. At that point, Ivkovic had claimed that the matter was beyond his control and that the rally was not being organized by the SPS. The students also said they held him and his party responsible for the death of Predrag Starcevic, who died of injuries he had sustained in a clash with the SPS supporters who had been bused to Belgrade last Tuesday.
Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, His Holiness Pavle called in his Christmas message for "adherence to the law and justice which binds all to respect the freely expressed will of the people and curb self-will and violence."
Students' protest is political, but is not connected to interests of any party, stated 83 percent of the students polled in the study which Belgrade Institute for Psychology (IP) of the School of Philosophy conducted. Three quarters of the Student Protest participants consider the political system in Serbia undemocratic, and 86 percent think that "things in Serbia" are heading in the wrong direction, shows this study presented today in Belgrade. The study was carried out on December 19th and 20th on the sample of 402 students who have already been protesting for weeks against the government's disregard for the citizens' will expressed in the elections. Bora Kuzmanovic, IP's manager said, while presenting the results of the study, that this sample objectively represents the opinions of the participants in the protest. 84 percent of the protesters believe in the possibility that the citizens can, with their actions (demonstrations, rallies and protests) promote or accelerate changes in the social structure. 99 percent of the protest participants said that changes are necessary, out of which 68 percent are in the favor of "quick and thorough changes" and 31 percent support gradual reformations. Most of those polled (78 percent) do take interest in politics, and identify mostly with the Right and the political center. 28 percent consider themselves moderate rightists, one out of five stated that they belong to the political center, 18 percent consider themselves right-centered, while one out of ten feels close to the extreme right. About forty percent of those polled said that the nation, among all social groups is the most important, but completely approve of Serbia's joining the European Union. Only nine percent disapprove of this idea. One out of three students stated that the solution for the Kosovo problem is abolishing all forms of its autonomy. 14 percent believe that present status of this province should be retained, and its confederacy status in the boundaries of Yugoslavia is supported by 11 percent. The study also shows that a little more than half the Student Protest participants want Serbia to remain a republic, 21 percent speak in favors of introduction of a monarchy, while 27 percent claim that "they don't care" what the social structure in Serbia will be. The study also shows that students disbelieve the highest governmental officials, since 82 percent expressed distrust for the Federal Parliament, 89 percent for the President of Yugoslavia, 79 for Serbian Parliament, and as much as 92 percent have no confidence in the Serbian President.
Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic has stated that "Montenegro is suffering very heavy political and economic consequences of the political crisis in Serbia," reports FoNet today. He appealed to both the authorities and the opposition in Serbia to solve the political crisis as soon as possible, and in a peaceful and democratic way. "We cannot do anything more here in Montenegro - we are not in the situation to take sides", Bulatovic stated last night in a television program.
Between 11:00--15:00 today, Radio B92's broadcasts could be heard with lot of noise interference -- if at all. After the radio's management intervened, the fault on the transmitter was repaired and the broadcasting was continued without interference. There were technical problems in the production of their Internet news as well, for the voltage in the building where B92 is situated had dropped, disabling the normal functioning of the appliances.
Serbian Ministry of Justice decided that the final report for the Nis City Assembly cannot be made until the Nis Electoral Committee had finished its work ordered by the Nis Municipal Court to re-run the procedure for 26 polling stations among which are the 17 Zajedno filed complaints in. Serbian Government ordered the Nis Electoral Committee, on receiving this decisuion by the Ministry of Justice, to step up its work.
The international organization "Reporters without Frontiers" sent today a letter to Aleksandar Tijanic, now already former Serbian Minister of Information, in which they protested against the brutal behavior of the police towards the reporters during the demonstrations in Belgrade. They also demanded of Tijanic to enable the reporters to perform their duties in safety.
London "Daily Telegraph" reports today that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic has decided to use force, instead of negotiations, in order to deal with the demonstrators who have been protesting for more than a month now against the stealing of the results of the local elections. The final settlement with the demonstrators is nearing, which gives the opportunity to the international community to save its honor and back the demands of the demonstrators for the recognition of the local elections, states the "Daily Telegraph". If the demands of the opposition are not granted, the economic sanctions should be made more rigorous again. It might not bring Milosevic down, but it would clearly show that Serbia would be weakened and isolated should he remain in power, concludes the "Daily Telegraph".
Russian commercial NTV said today that the opposition in Serbia received a staunch interational support, referring to the OSCE's report. The NTV report stated that it is highly unlikely that the Serbian authorities will accept the OSCE's recommendation to restore the electoral results and Zajedno's victory, reports for FoNet Branko Stosic. Russian media were dismayed at the silence of the official Moscow over the beating up of two Russian journalists in Belgrade and urged the Russian Embassy in Belgrade to intervene with the Serbian authorities.
While the Greek government, parties, student and other oganizations keep silent over the events in Serbia, althouth the dramatic scenes from Belgrade have been broadcasted on the Greek tv stations, a part of most influential Greek press brings harsh judgements, reports for FoNet Slobodan Markovic. The first blood was spilled in Belgrade, on the threshold of the civil war, writes today the "Elefterotipija" (a daily newspaper in Athens). The blood was spilled after Milosevic's decision to organize the counter-rallies, comments the newspaper and adds that these pro-Milosevic rallies were a "failure".
Czech newspapers are paying much attention to the escalation of violence in Belgrade's previously peaceful protests, and estimate that Serbia has found itself on the verge of a civil war. "Serbian opposition is supported by liberal students and dwellers of large cities, but the others are, unlike Czech workers in 1989, silent, and think that although there has been poverty until now, nobody knows what is yet to come." Reporters also point out that "the ghost of civil war is getting clearer contours, because the euphoria, impelling people to march, in such huge numbers, and in such severe weather conditions, face to face with police cordons, is not thriving from desire to bring the political culture, well known in the civilized countries, to Serbia - Serbian protesters on the streets of Belgrade are, above all, curing their hangover from the past years' nationalist drunkenness."
Owing to the demonstrations taking place in Belgrade, a possibility for weakening President Milosevic's autocracy has been created, thus enabling Serbia to commence its journey to democracy, which would transform not only Serbia, but all the remaining regions of former Yugoslavia as well, it is cited in the Washington Post's editorial. According to the Washington Post's estimations, the immediate goal of the demonstrations is Milosevic's acknowledgement of the results of the second round of the local elections, which Milosevic lost and then annulled. "However, in the long run, the goal is dismissing Serbian President from his function, as he alone bears the greatest responsibility for the division of Yugoslavia, the wars on the Balkans that followed, and the affliction and poverty which struck most of the region, and not just Serbia", the newspaper concludes.
Undersecretary of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Pierro Fasino denied the interpretation of some media representatives in Belgrade that the recent visit to Belgrade of Lamberto Dini, Chief of Diplomacy, proves the International Committee's support of President Milosevic's regime. "Such interpretations are incorrect, because Italy, as well as Europe, does not acknowledge Milosevic's right to do as he pleases, justifying himself with the Dayton agreement. I must stress that our opinion is identical to that of Europe, for it was reconciled on the level of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the European Union members", stated Fasino in his today's interview to a journal from Torino.
Fifteen buses and more than ten vans and jeeps full of policemen paraded Srpskih Vladara, one of the main Belgrade streets today at 14:30. They were heading for Terazije and Republic Square, where the 38th rally of the citizens of Belgrade, protesting against the annulment of the results of local elections was to begin at 15:00. About 25 buses were located in front of Federal Parliament.
Strong police forces were disposed today in the strictest center of Belgrade along the sidewalks, not allowing the citizens going to the protest rally to step onto the roadway. A huge number of the citizens gathered in front of the offices of the Democratic Party at Terazije, where they were informed, through the loudspeaker system, that "Felipe Gonzalez announced the victory of the oppositional "Zajedno" coalition in 13 cities of Serbia and eight municipalities in Belgrade, as well as in the City Assembly of Belgrade".
The police arrested today two youths who were crossing the street on their way towards Republic Square. The youths were crossing the street at the green light and shouting "arrest the traffic light". The reporter of the Beta news agency who saw the arrest of these two youths was told that two more demonstrators had been arrested.
Branislav Canak, president of the United Branch Syndicates "Nezavisnost", stated today that this syndicate has a proper reason for taking part in politics since, as he pointed out, its members want to change the political circumstances so that they can work normally.
Sali Berisa, President of Albania, stated today that the students have risen against "the most brutal communist regime, responsible for the drama on the Balkans and in the surrounding regions.
Several thousand citizens of Kragujevac continued their protest against the annulment of local elections in Serbia. They loudly applauded the information saying that the OSCE committee has concluded that the "Zajedno" coalition won in 13 cities of Serbia, including Kragujevac and Belgrade.