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Serbia: Protests Continue As Government Offers Handout

By Srdjan Kusovac

Belgrade, 5 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - Tens of thousands of people again took to the streets of the Serbian capital, Belgrade, today, despite efforts by President Slobodan Milosevic's government to take the steam out of street protests. Today's protest began as more than 20,000 students gathered in the center of Belgrade and started their daily march. The students passed the Serbian Parliament and were applauded by bystanders. They deposited a letter at the Communications Ministry to protest the closing of two independent radio stations reporting on the demonstrations -- Radio B92 and Radio Index.

Later, several other thousands of people were reported to have joined the demonstration. Yesterday, the rally attendance was estimated at more than 100,000 people.

Belgrade independent newspapers said today that Milosevic, whom the demonstrators want to resign, has begun a purge of socialist officials blamed for rigging election results against the opposition Zajedno (Together) coalition. Zajedno leaders claim the ruling socialists overturned opposition victories in Belgrade and other towns on November 17. Milosevic was reported to have accepted the resignation of the socialist boss in the southern town of Nis. That's the town where blatant stuffing of ballot boxes with socialist votes triggered the first protests. The independent daily "Nasa Borba" and the semi-official BETA news agency said Information Minister Aleksander Tijanic also resigned.

However, our correspondent in Belgrade says officials could not be reached for comment on the reported resignations today.

Newspapers in the Serbian capital today report that the government will begin meeting some opposition pay demands. Correspondents say the move is an attempt to keep nearly three weeks of protests from growing.

According to the papers, the government of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic will pay up on October pensions, with an increase of almost 14 percent. The reports said long-delayed student loans and grants also would be paid out in the next two weeks.

Late yesterday, state television reported a planned reduction in electricity prices, which were increased just last month before the local elections that Milosevic's Socialists lost in many places to a united opposition.

Yesterday, More than 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Belgrade to demand Milosevic's resignation over the election annulment. Demonstrations were also reported in the cities of Nis, Novi Sad and Kraljevo.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel today urged the imposition of sanctions on governments which fail to respect human rights and said an international court should be set up to punish rights violations around the world.

Speaking to parliament, Kinkel criticized the ongoing events in Belgrade, which he characterized as "an attack on people's democratic rights." Kinkel also warned that Serbia might have to face the political consequences of its "intransigence."

Meanwhile, programs of Radio B92, one of two independent Belgrade radio stations recently closed down by authorities, were interrupted again today after having been on the air for just a few minutes.

Our correspondent quotes B-92 news editor Milica Kuburovic as saying in a telephone conversation from Belgrade that the radio resumed broadcasting at 15:30 (Central European Time) today. However, Kuburovic said the radio was on the air for just a few minutes and with a small power output, before being interrupted again.

Kuburovic said some regular listeners of Radio B92 had been able to receive the few minutes of broadcasting. Kuburovic said there had been no communication from the authorities' side to explain either move.

Our correspondent says the other Belgrade radio that had its programs interrupted, Radio Index resumed broadcasting this afternoon without permission and is on the air at the moment.

Meanwhile the top international mediator on Bosnia, Carl Bildt, said today in London that Serbia's foreign minister has "virtually assured" that Radio B92 would soon be back on the air.

Bildt was speaking at the final press conference of a two-day meeting of 43 nations to adopt a plan to entrench peace in Bosnia. He said he is waiting to hear Radio B92 again himself.

Before it was banned by Serbian authorities on Tuesday, the station was the only domestic source of information on the massive protests in Belgrade against the annulment of an opposition victory in last month's municipal election.