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Serbia: Mounting Mass Mobilization Makes Mockery Of Milosevic Misrule

Prague, 26 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Two days ago a Belgrade court annulled the results of last week's municipal elections and ordered another round of voting. Yesterday, the city witnessed a mass public protest against the decision. And the protest is expanding throughout the country, threatening the very stability of the government.

The balloting took place on November 17. And it appears that the opposition Zajedno (Unity) coalition won in the 34 largest towns in Serbia, including the capital Belgrade. Official results gave the opposition 60 of 110 seats in Belgrade's city council. This would have given the opposition control of the capital for the first time since World War II.

The Sunday's court ruling wiped out presumed opposition victories in 33 contests and ordered another round of voting to be staged tomorrow at more than 210 polling stations in Belgrade alone. Opposition leaders responded with a call for a boycott of tomorrow's runoff.

At least 100,000 protesters gathered in Belgrade late yesterday to denounce the government. An even larger demonstration is due to be held today with trade unions urging their members to join in the protests.

The protests have focused on President Slobodan Milosevic, widely seen as the power behind the verdict. And if the mass protests continue to increase in size, the days of Milosevic and his Socialist party rule in rump-Yugoslavia could be numbered. Much will depend on whether and for how long the Yugoslav military and interior ministry forces remain loyal to a widely unpopular leader.

First protests started already six days ago, when the electoral commissions failed to provide detailed results of the vote. Ever since growing crowds of protesters marched through Belgrade and other large Serbian cities to denounce the presumed fraud.

State-run radio and television, claiming compliance with regulations covering pre-election media coverage, provided only scant coverage and yesterday ignored the largest anti-Milosevic demonstration to date.

Belgrade has been a hotbed of anti-Milosevic sentiment even before the break-up of Yugoslavia five years ago. But now even traditionally loyal towns seem to have turned against him.

Yesterday, an estimated 20,000 protesters assembled in the southern Serbian city of Nis, chanting "Slobo Saddam" in comparing Milosevic to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. A further 10,000 protesters gathered in the auto manufacturing town of Kragujevac, where one speaker (Dragoljub Stojanovic) described Milosevic as "our Saddam, worse than (Central African) dictator Boukkassa because he rules against the will of the people." Anti-Milosevic protests were also held yesterday in the central Serbian towns of Uzice and Kraljevo.

In Belgrade, opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, head of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) said that with growing numbers of participants in the protest the very survival of the Milosevic regime may become questionable. Draskovic called for a "popular revolt as the only response" to what he termed as "Milosevic's state terrorism."

The opposition leader invited protesters to bring eggs to future demonstrations, since "blockheads and thieves can only be driven out of power with eggs." He urged the Serbs to go into the streets to "show their anger" and "defend their electoral victory."

One Belgrade newspaper described the protesters' route yesterday as resembling "scrambled eggs," after protesters threw eggs at City Hall and at the buildings of Serbian television, Radio Belgrade and the government newspaper "Politika."

Opposition Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic said at yesterday's Belgrade demonstration that each civic protest in Serbia is a "contribution to democracy" because "each day we strip off another leaf from the dictatorship."

Djindjic described the demonstrations as a sort of "referendum, where the citizens of Serbia are determining whether this regime will rule or not".

The Association of Independent and Free Trade Unions (ASNS), a member of the Zajedno coalition, called yesterday on all the workers of Belgrade and Serbia to join in the coalition's protest rallies.

A trade union leaflet distributed to demonstrators at yesterday's rally in Belgrade, urged the workers to join "the great democratic battle to preserve our election victory." It said that "we must now save Serbia from those who ruined the economy, looted the factories, halted industrial output, brought working families to the edge of utter poverty, from the ones that have built castles for themselves and opened secret foreign currency accounts.� The leaflet said the protest rallies will continue until the authorities are all sent "packing into the dustbin of history."

There are signs that protests are spreading beyond Serbia's borders to Montenegro, the other constituent republic of rump-Yugoslavia. The opposition National Accord coalition has called there for a rally of solidarity with the democrats in Serbia for today.

The Montenegrin opposition says today's rally in the capital, Podgorica, will be the first in the series of protests against "election rigging and manipulation by Montenegro's ruling Democratic Party of Socialists and Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia."

There has been no response from Milosevic.