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Milosevic caves in to students, replaces pro-government rector

March 8, 1997

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic caved in to 15 weeks of student protests on Friday and replaced the hard-line chancellor of Belgrade University.

Buoyed by the news, Milosevic’s opponents announced another round of anti-government demonstrations this weekend to press for further democratic concessions.

Tens of thousands of students celebrated after the resignation of pro-government rector Dragutin Velickovic was broadcast on state TV. Chanting ``Slobo, you are next,″ the students surrounded Milosevic’s office in downtown Belgrade on the 106th day of their street protests.

Velickovic’s resignation was part of an agreement in which the students promised to end their protests if he stepped down.

``It’s a great victory, fruit of our consistency and adherence to principles,″ said student protest leader Vlada Dobrosavljevic.

The student demonstrations are part of the pro-democracy protests that have gripped Serbia since the government annulled opposition election victories in November.

The three-month-long demonstrations against the election fraud ended last month when Milosevic acknowledged the victories.

Students, however, continued the daily protests, demanding Velickovic’s ouster. Under a prior agreement, they returned to school Friday but prepared to boycott them again if Velickovic refused to resign.

His resignation still requires approval by a university council at its March 20 meeting.

The skeptical students said they will continue with the protests until then, but also will attend classes.

``This is still a conditional victory. The final triumph will be on March 20,″ said Dobrosavljevic, a student leader.

Velickovic immediately appointed another hard-liner, Tomislav Dragovic, as caretaker rector. The appointment is bound to enrage the students and deans and professors who support them. Last week they formed an alternative university board and named their candidate for chancellor.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Zajedno opposition coalition called a protest rally for Sunday to demand freedom of the media and fair conditions for parliamentary and presidential elections in Serbia due by the end of the year.

Inspired by their success in forcing Milosevic to restore their election triumphs, the opposition has set conditions for their participation in the elections, insisting a dialogue with the government on the disputed issues must start by March 20.

``Stopping the democratization of Serbia at the present level is unacceptable,″ said Zoran Djindjic, a Zajedno leader who became the first non-communist mayor of the capital, Belgrade, in 52 years.

``And, without changes in the state-run media and their liberalization, there won’t be any democratic progress.″

Currently, pro-Milosevic state television holds a virtual news monopoly.

There has been no response from the authorities to Zajedno’s demands for a dialogue and round-table discussions.

``Without democratic conditions for the elections we won’t take part in them, but we will be in the streets instead,″ said Vuk Draskovic, another Zajedno leader.

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