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Serbia: Thousands Return To The Belgrade Streets

Belgrade, 15 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Thousands of demonstrators returned to the streets of Belgrade this afternoon despite a ruling by the city's electoral commission to recognize opposition victories in local elections last November.

The opposition has pledged to continue the eight-week-old daily protests until the Socialist government of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic agrees to recognize its victories across 14 cities and towns.

Riot police were deployed in downtown streets as the leaders of the three-party opposition coalition, Zajedno (Together), prepared to address the latest mass rally in the capital's Republic Square.

Opposition leaders earlier reacted cautiously to confirmations of election wins in Belgrade and Serbia's second city, Nis, because it is unclear whether Milosevic intends to appeal them.

And in a setback for the opposition today, officials in Smederevska Palanka -- in eastern Serbia -- confirmed the government's annullment of the opposition victory there.

In a related development, France issued a warning of what it called "serious consequences" if the Serbian government does not recognize opposition election victories. The warning was relayed by Foreign Minister Herve de Charette in a letter to his Yugoslav counterpart, Milan Milutinovic.