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Serbia: Metal Workers Put Down Tools To Support Protests

Belgrade, 11 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - Metal workers at eight factories in Serbia downed tools today to lend their support to more than three weeks of protests against the government of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

The strike was called by the trade union Nezavisnost -- Serbia's biggest independent trade union. The union says the action affected six factories in Belgrade, one in the southern city of Nis and one in Mladenovac, 50 kms south of Belgrade.

There was no firm word on how many workers were actually taking part in the strike although one report cited union leaders saying 10,000 were participating. It's the first time workers have joined in to support daily mass demonstrations by students and others protesting the Milosevic regime's action to annul local elections last month won by the opposition Zajedno (Together) coalition.

Top legal authorities have refused appeals to restore the opposition's victories. In Belgrade today, tens of thousands of students turned out for continued demonstrations. Blowing horns and banging drums, the students began their protest with a reading of a declaration by U.S. President Clinton last night stating "elections in Serbia should be respected and the voice of the people heard."

Meanwhile, there's been fresh criticism of Serbia's action. U.S. secretary of State Warren Christopher today warned Milosevic that continuing what Christopher called his "repressive, undemocratic stance" would doom his dreams of ties to the west.

Meanwhile, Albanian President Sali Berisha today backed the opposition movement in Serbia against President Slobodan Milosevic.

Berisha told reporters in Tirana, "I support those who use peaceful means, ... the students who protest for their human rights."

Berisha described what is left of Yugoslavia as a "minifederation based on the principles of aggression and violence." He said it still represents a threat to the southern Balkans just as it did in the north during the Bosnian war.

Discussing the situation in Kosovo, he said the southern Serbian province inhabited mostly by ethnic Albanians bears the brunt of repression from the current Serbian regime.

But Berisha stressed that Albania is against a violent change of borders, which he called "a tragic option," apparently referring to ethnic Albanians' calls for an independent Kosovo.

Speaking about ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, Berisha said that despite complaints the situation of their human rights had improved in the last four years.