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Milosevic Denounces Uprising

October 6, 2000

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ A defiant Slobodan Milosevic, whose whereabouts have been a mystery, on Friday denounced an opposition uprising that has stripped away the pillars of his 13-year rule.

Milosevic’s statement was broadcast by a TV station operated by his allies after the disgraced Yugoslav president said he met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Belgrade.

Ivanov, who confirmed the meeting but not its location, suggested Milosevic could seek to remain in the country as a political force. ``He said he intends to play a prominent role in the political life of the country,″ said Ivanov.

Milosevic said in his statement that ``it was agreed that violence and destructive riots jeopardize the functioning of the state.″ Such behavior ``weakens the state, which is only in the interest of the country’s enemies,″ he said.

The statement was seen in Belgrade as an indication of the Yugoslav leader’s stubborn defiance in the wake of an electoral defeat and massive uprising against his 13-year rule.

The United States quickly rejected any future role for Milosevic in Yugoslav politics. ``This is something we cannot support,″ said Sandy Berger, the U.S. national security adviser.

``He is still an indicted war criminal and has to be accountable, we believe, for his actions,″ Berger said in an interview.

Earlier, Ivanov met with opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica and expressed Moscow’s support of his election victory after days of hesitation, stripping Milosevic of his main international ally.

Ivanov, carrying a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he ``congratulated Mr. Kostunica on his victory in the presidential elections.″

``I am convinced that we are gradually getting back to normal and I believe the crisis is behind us,″ said a visibly pleased Kostunica.

Russia was the last major European nation to back Kostunica, who Western nations insisted was the outright winner of disputed Sept. 24 elections. Its new move won praise from an exultant U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

``This is great news,″ Albright said, giving a thumbs up. ``We are very glad that Russia has now joined the rest of Europe and us in congratulating the victory of President Kostunica.″

The United States and the European Union promised economic sanctions on Serbia _ the dominant republic in Yugoslavia _ would be lifted once Kostunica was in place and promised new aid to the country.

Meanwhile, Kostunica and his supporters continued to consolidate their control after huge crowds danced and sang in celebrations all night long, fed by the excitement of having seized Yugoslavia’s parliament and other key symbols of the Milosevic’s regime.

About 200,000 people gathered in front of parliament Friday, hoping to watch Kostunica’s inauguration. One of the posters carried read: ``Slobodan, are you counting your last minutes.″ But Kostunica’s personal secretary, Svetlana Stojanovic, said the ceremony was postponed until he can reconvene parliament, possibly this weekend.

Worries eased about Milosevic launching a military counterattack. Most police commanders have joined the groundswell behind Kostunica, and no movements by military units were reported Friday.

The private news agency Beta quoted an army press service officer, Col. Dragan Velickovic, as saying the armed forces would not ``interfere in the democratic process.″

Tanjug and other state-owned media _ formerly a pillar of Milosevic’s regime _ were broadcasting or publishing apologies Friday for their past support for Milosevic. Serb television occasionally flashed its logo during broadcasts with the slogan: ``This is the new free Serbian television.″ Serbia and smaller, Western-oriented Montenegro comprise Yugoslavia. State-owned or past pro-Milosevic dailies issued special editions Friday, reflecting the change in their editorial policies.

Several hundred people from the opposition stronghold of Cacak marched down an avenue behind a brass band on Friday. A lone traffic policemen watched from his hiding place inside the entrance to an office building.

``God forbid that they see my uniform,″ said the terrified officer who declined to identify himself.

While Russia was keen to establish ties with any new government in Yugoslavia, it also faced the question of its old ally’s future.

Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency cited Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov as saying there had been no discussion about granting asylum to Milosevic. But that did not preclude Milosevic seeking Moscow’s intervention for haven in former Soviet republics, such as Belarus.

The Belarus prime minister, Vladimir Yermoshin, said there has been no request for asylum, ITAR-Tass reported. Kostunica has said he will not surrender Milosevic to international war crimes prosecutors.

Governments of the two Balkan neighbors _ Bulgaria and Romania _ ordered their armed forces to remain alert against any attempt by Milosevic or his allies to slip out of Yugoslavia.

``He’s trapped and a wounded animal,″ said former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic, who ran against Milosevic in 1992. ``He has to be given a chance to go somewhere.″

And in Moscow, pro-Milosevic politicians held out. The State Duma, or lower chamber of parliament, rejected a motion to send a congratulatory telegram to Kostunica. Some hard-liners described it as a ``coup.″

Milosevic’s regime began teetering Wednesday when police caved in to defiant coal miners striking in central Serbia, Yugoslavia’s main republic.

After that, the movement gained stunning momentum.

A crowd Thursday _ including tough miners, factory workers and farmers _ stormed the parliament. They set fires, tossed portraits of Milosevic out of broken windows and chased the feared riot police away.

Soon the state television building was on fire, too. Its front door was crushed by a front-loader that farmers from Cacak had driven more than 60 miles to the capital. Then came word that at least two police stations had also succumbed to the crowds.

Faced with the mob’s fury, many police tossed away their clubs and shields, absorbed by joyous flag-waving crowds. Others were beaten senseless by angry, often intoxicated, young toughs.

The director of Serbian state television and one of Milosevic’s closest allies, Dragoljub Milanovic, was punched, kicked and pummeled with sticks as he tried to flee his television station.

Tanjug said two people were killed and 65 injured in the rioting. All but 12 of the injured were treated and released from hospitals, Tanjug said.

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