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Western Press Review: End Of Serbian Unrest Still Unseen

  • Don Hill

Prague, 2 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary from the West continues to focus on efforts of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to undo the negative verdict of recent local elections, and on the groundswell of protests his government's actions have set off.

NEW YORK TIMES: Opposition leader Djindjic is calculating, cold-blooded and driven

Writer Chris Hedges wrote Saturday in a news analysis: "Zoran Djindjic, in his trademark black turtleneck and light brown tweed jacket, stepped onto the balcony of the opposition headquarters overlooking (Belgrade's) Terazije Square and raised his arms triumphantly to the cheering crowd of 100,000. 'Zoran! Zoran! Zoran!' they chanted, under the hazy steel-gray sky. The ritual, which has been repeated for the past 12 days, has catapulted the telegenic 44-year-old politician to the forefront of the opposition movement. And if there is to be a shift at the top, it is probably Djindjic who will emerge as the new political power broker in Serbia and Montenegro, the remains of Yugoslavia." Hedges added: "Milosevic often is portrayed as cunning and ruthless, but those close to Djindjic say that he, too, is calculating, cold-blooded and driven."

WASHINGTON POST: Only one Serbian leader in the past 150 years died peacefully -- Tito

John Pomfret's news analysis in today's edition says: "There has been only one leader in the last 150 years who died peacefully and in power in Serbia. His name was Josip Broz, known as Tito." Pomfret writes: "Now Slobodan Milosevic, the man who commandeered Tito's mantle of power in a 1987 coup and then led Yugoslavia into war and economic ruin, is facing the biggest political challenge to his iron-fisted rule. So far that challenge has been largely peaceful -- 14 straight days of street protests in several cities across the country."

He says: "But a wide array of diplomats and Serbian officials predict that unlike Tito, Milosevic, 52, will not die peacefully on this throne; that sooner or later he will be unseated. And true to Serbian history, they say, his departure will be bloody.

HANDELSBLATT: Milosevic is limiting the press run and circulation of the largest opposition newspaper

In an editorial in the German newspaper, Josef Abaffy writes today: "The demonstrations in Belgrade against the regime of President Slobodan Milosovic are an uneven contest. Even though the opposition under Vuk Draskovic can mount increasing daily protests -- on Saturday they claimed a quarter million -- Milosevic merely has to wait the problem out. The demonstrations alone don't frighten him. What would cause him to take notice would be a general strike crippling the economy, such as it is."

The Handelsblatt editorial concludes: "Democracy doesn't end with elections. Democracy also is the acceptance of parliament and opposition, of a pluralistic society, of minorities, of such democratic attributes as the press and freedom of information. Milosevic knows of course the power of the press and even more of television and radio. It's only logical that he and his cohorts are limiting the press run and circulation of the largest opposition newspaper, Blic. Protests from Brussels or Bonn? We should already be hearing them."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: It isn't important who votes, but how the votes are counted

Bernd Kuppers commented: "With regimes such as this one, there is always the suspicion that it is not very important who votes, but how the votes are counted. In Serbia's municipal elections an even more unusual case has arisen: the rulers are challenging the final count. Their reasons for doing so include absurd grounds. One of these is that an opposition candidate in Uzice offered a biscuit to an electoral committee member on election day."

Kuppers wrote: "Western peace sponsors clearly have little interest in weakening Milosevic, the guarantor of Dayton. And the opposition leaders have remained the same, just as incapable of providing a conclusive alternative as they were before the war. Not good omens from Serbia for a smooth changeover of power and reorientation towards more civil conditions."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Protests have turned into a campaign for Milosevic's resignation

The paper provides today an analysis by members of its foreign staff, who write: "The Serbian interior ministry yesterday gave a warning that it no longer would tolerate any element of violence in protests organized by the political opposition in Belgrade, and that from now on, organizers must seek permission to stage further demonstrations."

The newspaper's analysis continues: "The protests, sparked by massive fraud in recent municipal elections, have turned into a campaign for Mr. Milosevic's resignation. In the war of nerves, Vuk Draskovic, the other key opposition leader, is calling on the Serbs to follow the example of Prague demonstrators, who forced out the communists in 1989 after 47 days of peaceful demonstrations"

It says: "Whatever their differences, (Djindic and Draskovic) are united by their determination to destroy Mr. Milosevic's credibility abroad as well as to force recognition of opposition victory in the elections."

LONDON GUARDIAN: Trade union support for the protests has been lukewarm

Julian Borger in Belgrade comments today: "A clash on the streets of Serbia's cities looked increasingly likely last night as opposition leaders laid plans to spread their protest campaign across the country, and the authorities warned of an impending crackdown. After a fortnight of silence on the demonstrations sparked by the annulment of opposition victories in local elections, President Slobodan Milosevic's regime unleashed a media blitz against the Zajedno opposition coalition, reminiscent of old style communism in its vitriol."

Borger writes: "The new tough stance put the police on a collision course with Zajedno leaders, who spent the weekend in talks with trade unionists to arrange strikes and factory protests in support of the opposition coalition n."

He says: "The demonstrations are the most significant force against Mr. Milosevic's rule for five years and have shown his regime to be vulnerable. But trade union support for the protests has so far been lukewarm. Zjedno claims it has won the backing of some of the factories around Belgrade, but elsewhere, the union movement is weak and unwilling to be used for party political ends."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Serbia has to fulfill its obligations to its people before receiving international funding

Robert Fox writes today in an analysis: "Parties in the Bosnian conflict will be warned this week that they will not get further funds for reconstruction unless they are prepared to fulfill their obligations under the Dayton peace agreement, according to Malcolm Rifkind, the (British) foreign secretary."

Fox says: "Serbia would have to fulfill its obligations to its people, particularly the minority in Kosovo, before it could have full access to international funding and assistance from the EU."