Belgrade, 17 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The influential wife of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic warned today that two-month protests could turn into a bloody civil war, but undaunted opposition supporters and students braced themselves for their daily anti-government demonstrations.
In an article, published in Belgrade in the pro-government "Politika" newspaper and in the biweekly "Duga," Mirjana Markovic warned that "if the Serbs go to war against one another, it will be their last war." Markovic, whose JUL neo-communist party is a junior partner in Milosevic's governing coalition, likened the situation in Serbia with the one in former Yugoslavia just before its disintegration through war.
Markovic is believed to have a strong influence on Milosevic and her comments in the past have often prefigured events to come.
Undaunted by the warning, several hundred students gathered for a protest march in front of the Veterinary faculty, bringing along their pets. A white mare with a red ribbon led the march, with dozens of dogs, a black cat and even fish reportedly carried along.
An opposition protest rally was set for later in the afternoon. Opposition leaders were expected to arrive back in Belgrade in time for the rally after holding talks earlier today in Rome with Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini. Vesna Pesic, one of the oppsition leaders, told a news conference after the meeting with Dini that protests in Serbia will continue until all election victories, annuled by Milosevic, were recognized.
In Rome, opposition leader Vuk Draskovic predicted that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic will be ousted from power by the end of the year and he today urged the international community to step up pressure on him to fully re-instate annulled elections. He stopped short of calling for a resumption of sanctions against Serbia, saying the people would only suffer in such a case.
Draskovic, who heads the opposition coalition Zajedno (Together) said the Serbian leader had lost the support of the people and was acting like a dictator. Milosevic has already conceded the opposition victory in Serbia's second largest city Nis and some lesser towns, but the opposition vows to remain in the streets until all its election wins are recognized.
Electoral commissions in Belgrade and Nis, Serbia's second largest city, have ordered the opposition victories restored.
Yesterday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criticized Milosevic for what they called piecemeal concessions to the opposition and called on him to fully respect opposition victories.