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Milosevic Decries Opposition

October 2, 2000

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ In his first address to the nation since a disputed election, Slobodan Milosevic on Monday branded his opponents puppets of the West. A wave of unrest aimed at driving him from power swept Yugoslavia, and the government responded by arresting dozens of strike leaders.

The general strike and road blockades brought Yugoslavia to a virtual halt in the most serious challenge yet to Milosevic’s 13-year rule. Even the government weather bureau said it would stop issuing forecasts until he concedes defeat in the Sept. 24 presidential election.

In at least two towns, protesters broke into television stations _ among the pillars of the Milosevic regime.

The strikes even spread to Milosevic’s birthplace, Pozarevac, where about 20,000 protesters blocked roads and stopped public services, the independent Beta news agency said.

A spokesman for the opposition coalition, Cedomir Jovanovic, reported several incidents including a clash with police in Surcin, 12 miles west of Belgrade, in which four people were injured.

Dozens of strike leaders were arrested, opposition officials said. The opposition called for people to converge on the capital Thursday in a push to drive Milosevic from power.

Vojislav Kostunica, the opposition leader who says he won the election outright, told reporters ``what is happening now is a revolution _ a peaceful, nonviolent, wise, civilized, quiet and smart democratic revolution.″

Milosevic has admitted finishing second to Kostunica and called a runoff on Sunday. But in his televised speech, he accused his opponents of seeking to plunge the country into a ``foreign occupation″ in which ``Yugoslavia will inevitably break up.″

State radio reported that the government printing office has started making ballots for Sunday’s vote. However, Kostunica told striking miners on Monday: ``There will be no runoff.″

White House press secretary Jake Siewert said the United States supports the opposition in its decision to boycott the runoff, saying, ``It’s time for the government to recognize that they lost in the first round and the opposition prevailed.″

Milosevic said in his speech: ``A puppet government guarantees violence, the possibility of a war lasting for years _ everything except peace. Only governing ourselves guarantees peace.″

Strikers clogged roads across Serbia, which with the smaller Montenegro republic makes up Yugoslavia.

After blockades and a student rally in Belgrade during the day, about 10,000 people assembled in the city center after sundown in what participants called a spontaneous protest in response to Milosevic’s speech.

``I am here, waiting in the streets of Belgrade where he can’t even show his face,″ opposition campaign manager Zoran Djindjic told the crowd, which booed at every mention of Milosevic’s name. ``Let him come here and tell us why he has been doing all the terrible things for more than 10 years.″

In Novi Sad, Serbia’s second-largest city, protesters broke into the state television building, interrupting programming.

Hundreds of employees of state-run firms in Novi Sad joined a column of tens of thousands of opposition protesters carrying banners reading ``He’s Finished.″

Protesters in the southern town of Prokuplje seized a local TV station, prompting authorities to cut electricity.

And in the southwestern town of Uzice, railway workers walked off the job and thousands of industrial workers joined them, cutting the country’s main north-south railway link.

In a veiled threat to tens of thousands of strikers, Milosevic said ``Serbia is obliged ... to defend itself from the invasion prepared through various means of subversion.″

The opposition scoffed at the speech, saying in a statement that it ``epitomizes a dictator facing ouster, who is begging for help from the people he terrorized for 10 years.″

``Milosevic made a threatening, very nervous and very unstable speech,″ Djindjic said.

Kostunica visited strikers Monday at the Kolubara coal mine, 30 miles south of Belgrade, and urged them to hold out.

``We’re only days away from getting rid of Milosevic when the flames of change will engulf the whole country,″ he said. ``There will be no runoff because if we had agreed to it, we would be stomping on the will of the people.″

``Long live the President!″ the miners shouted back, addressing Kostunica.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has resisted Western calls for Milosevic to accept defeat, offered to mediate between the two men at a meeting in Moscow. There was no immediate response.

But Kostunica criticized Moscow and Washington for their handling of the crisis.

``Russia is too cautious,″ Kostunica said. ``Russia is defending the indefensible.″

Kostunica said Washington’s insistence on prosecuting Milosevic for war crimes had strengthened ``Milosevic in his belief that these elections are a question of life and death for him.″

In Washington, Siewert said: ``We have several aims. We want to see Milosevic out of power. We believe he’s been a destructive force for his own people and for the region generally.

``We also want to see him out of Serbia and we’d like to see him in the Hague.″

Road blockades snarled traffic on a bridge in Belgrade, while city bus drivers staged a two-hour walkout. At one intersection, protesters stood in pouring rain to link hands and form a human chain after police broke up a blockade of four trucks.

``We have no other option until Milosevic leaves power voluntarily,″ said Nebojsa Zdravkovic, a teacher. ``If they want to use force against us, let them.″

In a sign that Milosevic’s grip on media may be ebbing, 86 employees of state-run Radio Belgrade demanded a change in its pro-Milosevic editorial policies. Similar petitions were reported in the Vecernje Novosti newspaper, the official Tanjug news agency and the Serbian TV networks.

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