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Serbia: Protests Continue As Voters Boycott Third Local Elections

Prague, 27 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Polls opened in Belgrade today for the third time this month amid opposition calls for a boycott, further protests against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and wintry weather.

News reports from Belgrade indicate very low turnout. Mass protest demonstrations are scheduled for this afternoon.

Tens of thousands of Serbs demonstrated in Belgrade, Nis, Kragujevac and elsewhere for the seventh straight day yesterday, despite heavy rain and cold, to protest the annulment of local election results that favored the opposition.

In Belgrade, an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people marched in protest. Some were reported to have been armed with eggs, tomatoes and stones. Braving heavy rain and cold they marched, chanting anti-Milosevic statements such as "Slobo out!" "March, Slobo march!", "Thieves, thieves!", and "We won't surrender our victory."

As on previous days, city hall and Serbian television were prime targets. About 10,000 students joined in yesterday's protests, appealing to all the participants in the political crisis to refrain from violence and stressing that they are not supporting any political parties in their protest.

The election boycott and the demonstrations are being organized by the opposition movement "Zajedno," which groups three opposition parties and independent trade unions.

The Belgrade municipal court on Sunday evening ordered a third round of elections to be held today with no time allowed for campaigning. Zajedno appealed to the Serbian Supreme Court to annul the ruling. But the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision to hold a vote today to contest half of the 110 municipal council seats.

In an interview with Belgrade's independent Radio B92 conducted at yesterday's demonstration, chairman of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement, Vuk Draskovic, said: "We won a two-thirds majority in the November 17 elections for the Belgrade city assembly (and) the municipal electoral commission verified our 60 seats in the city council."

"The story is over as far as we are concerned -- we have won," he said.

Draskovic termed the third round of polling "a legalized criminal act, violence, single-party dictatorship, and willfulness of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia."

These "elections do not exist for us," he said. And he said that demonstrations will take place "every day in Belgrade and throughout Serbia -- we will turn Serbia into a country of total civil disobedience and rebellion" until the opposition victory is recognized.

Yesterday a protest also took place in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, where some 5,000 demonstrated in support of the Serbian opposition. The leader of the opposition People's Party of Montenegro, Novak Kilibarda, told the gathering: "We demand that Montenegrin President Bulatovic comes out publicly either in favor of democracy or of dictatorship" -- so far, Kilibarda says, "Bulatovic has publicly opted for dictatorship."

The Belgrade weekly, "Nedeljni Telegraf" reports in its latest issue that in response to the demonstrations the supreme defense council last Thursday placed the Yugoslav army on "full combat readiness." Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is a member of the defense council along with his Montenegrin counterpart, Momir Bulatovic, Yugoslav President Zoran Lilic, Prime Minister Radoje Kontic, Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic and chief of staff general Momcilo Perisic.

The protests continue today to spread to key Serbian and Montenegrin cities.