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Serbia: Bishops Condemn Government's Annulment Of Opposition Victories

Belgrade, 2 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church today called on the Serbian government to recognize the results of the November 17 municipal elections in that country. The bishops said in a statement that the "Serbian Orthodox Church in the sharpest terms condemns the falsification of the people's votes and the state-suppression of people's freedoms." The statement also said the Church condemned the behavior of the regime and called on it to respect human rights.

The church leaders made the statement after meeting today in the first day of a two-day synod in Belgrade to discuss the country's political unrest. Some 30 bishops attended the meeting called by church leader Patriarch Pavle.

Pavle has previously warned the government of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic not to use violence against demonstrators protesting the cancellation of opposition victories in the November 17 local elections for the last six weeks. More protests are scheduled for today.

One of the leaders of the Serbian opposition coalition Zajedno (Together) told supporters today that the opposition's fight with the government of President Milosevic is entering its final phase.

Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Party, told supporters in Belgrade today that "our battle for democratic Serbia is entering a final phase. We won't be demonstrating on the streets forever." He did not elaborate.

The remark comes as opposition supporters prepare to take to the streets of Belgrade again tonight for their daily protests calling on Milosevic to recognize opposition victories in Serbian municipal elections in November.

Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, is planning to meet tomorrow in Vienna to discuss the situation in Serbia. It concluded last week that the opposition had won last month's elections in 14 communities, including Belgrade and Nis, the largest cities in Serbia.

Yesterday, the speaker of Montenegro's parliament called on Serbian authorities to respect the OSCE's findings, which supported opposition allegations of election fraud.

Svetozar Marovic said acknowledgement of the OSCE report would be "a first step to overcoming the crisis in Belgrade and Serbia." Montenegro and Serbia make up federal Yugoslavia.

The OSCE report urged the government of President Milosevic to restore opposition victories in local elections which it had annulled. The annulments have led to protracted street protests in Belgrade and other Serbian cities.

Marovic urged Milosevic to choose the path of political dialogue and compromise, "instead of conflict that could claim human lives."

Marovic said democracy and its principles must be defended and "the right of citizens to decide who will represent them, and in whom they will place confidence."

On New Year's Eve, up to 10,000 students staged a noisy march through Belgrade in the latest protest against the Serbian government's annulment of opposition victories.

The students blew whistles and foghorns, rattled spoons, and beat drums, cymbals, tambourines, as they made their way to the television building. The march was timed to symbolically drown out the main evening newscast on state television, which is accused by the opposition of biased coverage of the daily mass demonstrations of the past six weeks.

When the TV newscast began, Belgrade residents opened their apartment windows and joined the students by also blowing whistles, banging on walls and throwing firecrackers.

At the television building the students shouted "Thieves. Red bandits" and pelted the building with firecrackers and snowballs.

Western reports said that riot police could not be seen on the street, as in previous demonsatrations. AP says only a few plainclothes policemen monitored the crowd.