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Opposition media: Serbian authorities intensify harassment

July 22, 1997

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Serbian authorities are increasingly harassing independent media prior to autumn elections, shutting down at least a dozen independent radio and TV stations, opposition media said Tuesday.

Over the past week, small stations were ordered closed in the towns of Pancevo, Kraljevo, Krusevac and Trstenik. State inspectors, flanked by policemen, barged into offices claiming the stations had no broadcast licenses.

The owners deny those claims and say Yugoslavia’s president, Slobodan Milosevic, is beginning a nationwide crackdown on independent stations to prevent opposition parties from gaining power.

``This is just a prelude to total darkness in Serbia,″ said Mile Koricanac, Democratic Party leader from Kraljevo. ``They are out to create complete censorship before and during the elections.″

Throughout his decade in power, Milosevic has tried to keep strict control over the media. But that grip was loosened somewhat in the wake of opposition victories in last November’s local elections.

Huge street protests paralyzed Belgrade last winter after Milosevic’s government annulled opposition victories. After Milosevic backed down and reinstated opposition victories, dozens of independent radio and TV stations set up shop in opposition-controlled towns.

By shutting down stations now, Milosevic’s government may be attempting to muzzle free speech before Serbia’s parliamentary elections, expected in September.

Koricanac said the opposition was ready to call out protesters to demand media freedom as they did earlier this year. Already, he said, 150 currently unemployed workers and supporters of Kraljevo’s shut-down radio station Globus have been out on the streets, broadcasting their program ``live″ with the aid of one loudspeaker.

The largest TV station to be closed recently was TV Trstenik, in a southern Serbian town by the same name, about 115 miles south of Belgrade. The station stopped broadcasting after police and federal inspectors burst into the station at midnight Sunday.

Town official Rade Lepenac said that the station had been operating for three years, but that its former Socialist manager had taken all its legal papers when the new, opposition-led local government took over in January.

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