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Serbia: Protesters March Despite Riot Police And Restrictions

Belgrade, 30 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Some 10,000 people backing Serbia's opposition Zajedno coalition massed in Belgrade's Republic Square this afternoon as riot police enforced restrictions preventing protesters from blocking traffic zones. Zajedno confined its protest to the capital's pedestrian mall, walking in circles like prisoners and jeering at riot police. Zajedno leader Zoran Djindjic told the crowd the government is wrong if it thinks demonstrators have achieved nothing in almost six weeks of mass protests.

Protest marches have been held across Serbia almost daily since Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic overturned opposition victories in local elections last month. As Djindjic put it: "We began by chasing a fox which stole our votes and ended up driving a dinosaur out of its lair."

Dejan Bulatovic, the Zajedno activist detained for 25 days for carrying an effigy of Milosevic in prison clothes, appeared at today's rally. He was released today by Serbian authorities and has vowed to take part in all opposition demonstrations.

Earlier today, some 5,000 university students staged demonstrations in downtown Belgrade in opposition to Milosevic.

Meanwhile, Britain today warned Serbia not to obstruct opposition protests and said failure to abide by election results could harm its relations with the rest of the world.

A statement by the Foreign Office in London said Britain is "deeply concerned" by recent events in Serbia. Britain called on Serbian authorities not to obstruct opposition supporters from demonstrating peacefully. And London urged Serbia to honor opposition victories in local elections held two month ago.

International mediators have supported opposition claims of vote fraud. The British statement said a failure by the Serbian authorities to respond quickly and positively to the mediators' findings will have a "negative impact" on Serbia's relations with the EU and the rest of the international community.

Meanwhile, Yugoslav army chief of staff Momcilo Perisic met today with Yugoslav President Zoran Lilic. According to the Tanjug state news agency, Perisic said the army will contribute to providing domestic stability. His statement comes a day after unconfirmed reports said that several army units had given their backing to the demonstrations.

The parliament of Montenegro, Serbia's lesser partner in the Yugoslav federation, is due to vote today on a resolution calling on the Serb leadership to respect the findings of international mediators and recognize opposition victories.