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Federal Parliament Opens Despite Opposition Boycott, Students Protest

December 10, 1996

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Federal parliament, dominated by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his politically powerful wife, opened a new session today despite an opposition boycott.

Anti-government protests seeking the resignation of Milosevic, some involving up to 150,000 people, have occurred daily since the annulment of Nov. 17 elections won by the opposition in Belgrade and 14 other cities.

About 10,000 students booed and jeered as they marched past the parliament building today. Larger demonstrations were planned for later in the day.

The parliament that was elected last month is dominated by Milosevic’s Socialists and the United Left party of his wife, Mirjana Markovic. The Zajedno opposition coalition holds 22 of the 138 seats.

``For us, these elections are not finished yet,″ Zoran Djindjic, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, said Monday night. ``Their results are not legal. We cannot take part in part of the results when another part was annulled in an illegal way.″

His coalition partner, Vuk Draskovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement, demanded that Milosevic ``recognize the election will of the people″ before the opposition takes its seats in parliament.

Federal Police Minister Vukasin Jokanovic, attending the parliament session, warned of force if the demonstrations turn violent.

``If the demonstrators use force, it would be natural for the police to intervene to protect our property,″ Jokanovic said.

On Monday, protesters vented their fury over the arrest and beating of a young demonstrator, one of 40 detained by authorities in the past week. The 21-year-old demonstrator had been one of several parading an effigy of Milosevic in a prison uniform during a demonstration Saturday.

The demonstrator’s nose was broken and a gun stuck in his mouth during interrogation, his mother said.

The United States has urged NATO allies to help pressure Milosevic to open a dialogue with opposition leaders and to honor last month’s municipal elections. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, speaking in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday, threatened renewed sanctions unless Milosevic complies.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Glyn Davies said the United States would continue ``turning up the flame″ on Milosevic, who has been in power since 1987 and relented to the shutdowns of independent radio stations last week by allowing them to re-open.

``Clearly pressure works in Serbia, and we’ll just have to keep the pressure on and see what we can accomplish,″ he said.

Sanctions imposed to punish Milosevic’s role in instigating war in Croatia and Bosnia as well as economic mismanagement have sent the economy into a deep nose-dive.

Several hundred people gathered at Belgrade’s IMT engine and tractor factory Monday to demand better living and working conditions. But they refused to leave the factory gates for a planned march to the Serbian government building.

The workers accuse the government of squandering vast sums of money, destroying the economy and reducing people’s daily existence to a bare minimum. Still, union leaders said workers were afraid of losing their jobs and incomes, however meager.

``The fear is immense,″ Dragoljub Matic, an independent union official said.

``We are here because we have nothing to eat. We don’t care about politics,″ said Zarko Jokic, a 47-year-old father of two who earns $50 a month.

Most of the workers refused to talk to reporters; others said they feared being used as tools in a political struggle.

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