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Yugoslav Opposition Seems to Fizzle

Balkans: Only about 1,000 people gather to hear a Milosevic foe call for a campaign of 'civil disobedience.'

September 29, 2000|PAUL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BUDVA, Yugoslavia — A day after one of the largest demonstrations ever against President Slobodan Milosevic, the political opposition in Yugoslavia fought off complaints Thursday that it was faltering in its struggle to wrest power from him.

There was no mass protest Thursday night in central Belgrade, where just 24 hours before opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica had mobilized about 150,000 euphoric supporters to back his claim that he is the president-elect of Yugoslavia.

Only about 1,000 people gathered late Thursday to hear Kostunica's campaign manager, Zoran Djindjic, announce what the opposition calls "the process" for removing Milosevic.

"We expect that from Monday we'll really start that which we call 'civil disobedience,' not as a strike against companies but as a refusal of obedience to one usurper," Djindjic said. Calling the situation "very revolutionary," Djindjic said the plan for the next seven or eight days is to make sure "that all Serbia stops," including schools and even "traffic on the highway."

In addition, protests are set to begin this afternoon in Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia and its dominant republic, Serbia, and in the rest of Serbia's cities and towns, Djindjic said.

The call for civil disobedience came as Milosevic threw his hat into the ring for a runoff election that has been dismissed as a fraud by the opposition. The Federal Electoral Commission, dominated by Milosevic loyalists, ordered the second-round vote for Oct. 8 after declaring that no candidate had won a majority in Sunday's presidential election, though Kostunica and his supporters insist that the opposition candidate won 52%.

Meanwhile, the Serbian Orthodox Church and a former political ally of Milosevic both gave their support to Kostunica.

In Washington, a U.S. intelligence official insisted that Milosevic "appears headed for a departure," possibly to Belarus or Russia, two longtime supporters of his crumbling regime.

"He's on a slippery slope," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It's unclear how soon the wheels will come off, but that's the way it looks."

The official said opposition forces in Belgrade "made a mistake" by calling off anti-government demonstrations for a day. "They took the pressure off."

Djindjic's "civil disobedience" announcement followed a day of heated discussions among opposition leaders and complaints from Kostunica's supporters that he isn't moving quickly enough to defeat Milosevic in the streets.

The relative quiet Thursday night in Belgrade left many asking whether Kostunica's 18-party coalition is already losing momentum.

Prominent Serbian journalist Zoran Petrovic put that question to Zoran Sami, deputy leader of Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, at a Belgrade news conference.

"Time is running out! They are fooling around with you with their well-known manipulations, and the public is starting to be afraid!" a clearly frustrated Petrovic shouted at Sami.

"Time is running out," Petrovic repeated, "and that works for Slobodan Milosevic. They are recovering. What will you do if they get back on their feet? They have to defend their naked lives."

Sami replied: "The issue here is not who is on his feet and who isn't. I do not agree with you that time works for Slobodan Milosevic. To the contrary." Sami then moved on to other questions.

The opposition has tried to oust Milosevic with protests before, only to see the effort collapse as its leaders argued among themselves.

A decade of war, economic mismanagement and crippling sanctions by the West have forced many Yugoslavs to hold down two jobs or trade on the black market to make ends meet, and it is difficult to persuade them to launch and stay on a general strike for any length of time.

In its final, official results from Sunday's election, the electoral commission reported that Kostunica received 48.96% of the vote to 38.62% for Milosevic, forcing the runoff election. But Kostunica has refused to participate in a second round, insisting that he won 52.54% to 32.01%.

The opposition bases its claim on photocopies of signed, official reports from election boards that counted ballots at nearly 11,000 polling stations across Yugoslavia. These local boards included opposition members and sent their vote counts and marked ballots to Belgrade for certification.

Sinisa Nikolic, an opposition member on the federal commission, confirmed Thursday that the body had permanently removed its few opposition representatives, saying their mandates had ended. The commission refused to allow opposition members to see detailed proof of its official vote count, Nikolic said.

A former Milosevic ally, ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj, threw his support Thursday behind Kostunica's claim to victory and said Serbia's interior minister, Vlajko Stojiljkovic, should resign because his police were misused during the campaign.

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