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Yugoslavia: Hundreds Of Thousands Flood Belgrade, Demand Milosevic Step Down

Belgrade, 5 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets of Belgrade to demand that President Slobodan Milosevic step down. Protesters, many coming from cities and towns outside of the capital, are converging on points around the city. A festive but chaotic situation in the city reigns. Demonstrators have occupied the federal parliament building, which was later set alight. Demonstrators also occupy the offices of Serbian state television and are said to be in control of the station.

Police earlier fired rounds of tear gas on the crowd, but are offering little physical resistance. The protesters taunted police in one instance and accused them of helping Milosevic: "You are protecting [Milosevic]! Shame on you! Let's go, brothers -- come here, come [police] commander, come commander! Nobody will hurt you."

There has been no word from Milosevic and it wasn't clear from reports where he is. The official Yugoslav agency Tanjug this evening carries a statement from Milosevic's Serbian Socialist Party saying the party will fight back with "all means to secure peaceful life."

The demonstrators are demanding Milosevic relinquish power and admit he lost an election last month (Sept 24) to opposition challenger Vojislav Kostunica.

Kostunica this evening addressed thousands of people in the city center. In emotional words to the protesters, he appealed for calm. He said the people will win in its fight against Milosevic.

The Milosevic-controlled State Election Commission has admitted that Kostunica won the election, but says he did not win outright with a better than 50 percent majority.

Yesterday, the federal constitutional court annulled part of the vote.

Today, the head of court, Chief Justice Milutin Srdic, told RFE/RL that the ruling means that fresh elections would have to be held: "It means there will be entirely new elections for president from the beginning."

Srdic says a planned run-off between Kostunica and Milosevic set for this Sunday (Oct 8) is unnecessary. He also says that means Milosevic is free to serve out his term, which runs until mid-year next year.

In Washington today, U.S. President Bill Clinton says the people of Yugoslavia have taken to the streets of Belgrade and other cities because there has been an attempt to steal their election.

"The people of Serbia have made their opinion clear -- they did it when they voted peacefully and quietly, now they're doing it in the streets because people tried to, there's been an attempt to rob them of their vote. And I think that if the world community will just stand for freedom, stand for democracy, stand for the will of the people, I think that will prevail."

In Western Europe, the leaders of Britain and France called on the Yugoslav government to stand down and let the people have their say.

German and Italian officials have urged Belgrade authorities not to use violence to suppress the demonstrations.

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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.