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Anti-Milosevic Rally Draws 100,000, Unites Opposition

April 15, 2000|From Associated Press

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — Waving flags and chanting "Slobo go away," more than 100,000 opponents of Slobodan Milosevic on Friday demanded elections and an end to oppression in one of the largest protests to date against the Yugoslav president.

Demonstrators streamed into central Belgrade's Republic Square, defying warnings by Milosevic's allies to stay away and evading police checkpoints in a bold attempt to join forces against the strongman's grip on Yugoslavia.

"We've had enough of terror of Europe's last dictator," opposition leader Vladan Batic shouted into a microphone. The crowd roared: "Slobo Saddam," referring to Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.

The protest was the biggest opposition gathering in Belgrade, the Yugoslav and Serbian capital, since August and the first since the traditionally squabbling opposition came together in January to sign a joint declaration aimed at pushing Milosevic aside.

In the most visible show of reconciliation, Vuk Draskovic and Zoran Djindjic, the two opposition leaders whose political and personal rivalry has plagued the anti-Milosevic effort, reluctantly shook hands at the speaker's stage.

In Washington, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said: "This large demonstration shows again that the Serbian people are fed up with the repressive and undemocratic regime President Milosevic has inflicted upon them."

Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic, is internationally isolated and impoverished a year after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombed the country to stop Milosevic's repression of ethnic Albanians in the southern province of Kosovo.

Milosevic has ignored opposition demands for early elections, apparently fearing that he could lose them. The government has cracked down on free media, opposition leaders and their supporters.

In a bid to keep people at home, the state held a television film festival, showing pirated copies of James Bond's "The World Is Not Enough" and the Oscar-winning "American Beauty."

Live coverage of the rally on the leading nongovernment television station, Studio B, was jammed.

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