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Belgrade's Closed-Down Broadcasters Go Low-Tech

May 19, 2000|PAUL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — Forced off the air by the state's seizure of their studios, Belgrade's independent broadcasters were reduced Thursday to reading the nightly news from a balcony of City Hall.

The news anchors had to pause each time they read out Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's name Thursday night, however, as a crowd of about 10,000 demonstrators below demanded the president's head.

"Slobodan, save Serbia!" the protesters chanted. "Kill yourself!"

Serbian riot police fired tear gas and beat protesters for the second night in a row after some in the crowd set fire to garbage bins and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at officers who blocked a march through the city.

At least 12 people were treated for minor injuries after the skirmishes, which lasted more than an hour.

After months of anti-Milosevic protests, brief clashes with riot police have become more of a violent ritual than a sign of the long-awaited uprising that protesters repeatedly called for Thursday night.

The balcony news readings included a statement issued by Serbia's Interior Ministry police, which said four officers had been injured, two of them seriously, in the first night of recent unrest Wednesday. At least 60 injured protesters had gone to emergency rooms for treatment, the news reader also told the jeering crowd.

Opposition leaders told the crowd that they would hold daily demonstrations until Milosevic gives in to their demand for early elections, but they have made that rallying cry before, only to call off protests as interest lagged.

The latest confrontation with Milosevic--sparked by the Serbian government's seizure of Yugoslavia's main independent television and radio stations in the dead of night this week--has failed to draw crowds even half as large as several previous protests.

A leading critic of Milosevic, Serbian Renewal Movement chief Vuk Draskovic, was absent from Thursday's rally--even though the opposition-led Belgrade city government controlled Studio B television before it was seized.

Draskovic's main rival in the anti-Milosevic movement, Democratic Party chief Zoran Djindjic, attended but didn't speak. Instead, four minor opposition figures addressed the crowd.

Milosevic's increasing repression is "confirmation that we are in a state of emergency," said Vukasin Petrovic, a 24-year-old leader of the democracy movement called Otpor, or Resistance.

He accused Hadzi Dragan Antic, one of Milosevic's closest family friends and editor in chief of the state-run Politika publishing house, of "leading the war against" Otpor as head of a secret "crisis headquarters."

International condemnation of the Serbian government's seizure of independent broadcasters Studio B and Radio B2-92, including sharp words from the U.S. and European Union, fell on deaf ears in Milosevic's regime.

The government moved to silence the last independent broadcaster outside Belgrade that has a signal strong enough to reach the city--which is the capital of Yugoslavia and its dominant republic, Serbia--by jamming Radio Pancevo's transmission from a nearby suburb.

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj, who co-signed the decree authorizing Studio B's seizure, told a news conference Thursday that he hopes more independent broadcasters and print publications will be closed down.

Journalists at the popular independent daily newspaper Blic were allowed to return Thursday to their newsroom in the same office tower as Studio B. Seselj singled the paper out as one of the publications he would like to have closed.

Seselj, a former paramilitary commander who once pointed a handgun at a photographer in the lobby of parliament, repeated his charge that the independent media incite terrorism and are agents of the West, which went to war against Yugoslavia last year to force Milosevic's troops out of Serbia's Kosovo province.

"We will not allow American agents to come to power through terrorism and enraged street violence," Seselj told reporters.

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