Thousands Rally Against Communists, Days Before Key Vote
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Thousands of supporters of the main opposition to Communist power in Serbia defied a police ban Thursday to hold a final rally in the bitter campaign for control of Yugoslavia’s largest republic.
Opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, a candidate in Sunday’s election for the Serbian presidency, charged that a supporter of his Serbian Renewal Movement had been shot and killed by a rival Communist. The charge further escalated tensions in the republic.
The crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 people chanted ″Down with Red Bandits,″ and ″Down with Red Fascists″ after Draskovic announced the death of Slobodan Ivanovic, 30, in the southern Serbian town of Vranje late Wednesday.
Sunday’s election in Serbia and in the republic of Montenegro is considered the crucial last act in a decade-long struggle for control of Yugoslavia’s future following the death in 1980 of Josip Broz Tito, who governed with an iron hand for 35 years.
The leaders of Yugoslavia’s diverse regions have waged an increasingly bitter battle since Tito’s death, with tensions now so high that the CIA has predicted the country may disintegrate within 18 months and civil war could break out.
The Serbian election, the republic’s first free vote in 50 years, pits the ruling hard-line Serbian Communists, recently renamed Socialists, against the Serbian Renewal Movement and a host of other center-right nationalist parties.
It will decide the presidency and 250 seats in the republic’s legislature.
Serbia and Montenegro are the last of Yugoslavia’s six republics to hold elections. After Sunday’s results, the newly elected leaders from all six republics will begin haggling over Yugoslavia’s future.
Thursday’s rally had been banned by Belgrade police, who halted construction of a wooden stage on the city’s main Republic Square. But police did not try to stop the rally once it got under way.
Draskovic, who is the main challenger to Serbia’s incumbent Communist president, Slobodan Milosevic, denounced the violence and said his own life could be in danger.
″You can murder me right now, but you won’t stop the Communist downfall in Serbia,″ Draskovic said, adding: ″Mr. Milosevic, this is the end for you.″
After Draskovic’s speech, a Serbian Orthodox priest held a memorial service for his slain supporter in front off the emotional crowd, which chanted anti- Communist slogans.
The official Tanjug news agency confirmed Ivanovic had been killed while pasting up posters for the Serbian Renewal Party, and it also reported that his assailant was a member of a rival party.
Two years ago, Milosevic was the first of Yugoslavia’s Communist politicians to play the nationalist card, pushing for Serbia to reassert control over its southern province of Kosovo, an ancient Serbian heartland now dominated by ethnic Albanians.
The tactic made him deeply unpopular in the rival republics of Croatia and Slovenia, but won him admiration in Serbia.
In recent months, many of the nationalist parties, including Draskovic’s, have demanded the formation of a Greater Serbia that would include regions which once belonged to Serbia but now lie in other republics.
Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia deeply oppose any such expansion of the power of the Serbs, the largest of Yugoslavia’s many ethnic groups.
In the struggle to shape the country, the Western republics of Croatia and Slovenia, where center-right parties ousted Communists in spring elections, want more independence from the federation. They threaten to secede if they don’t get it.
They are pitted against Serbia and the poor southern republics who favor a strong central government.
As Sunday’s elections approach, Draskovic and Milosevic have been running virtually even in polls.
Many Serbs, frustrated by Milosevic’s attempts to block political and economic reforms, apparently have turned to center-right parties that promise Western-oriented changes.
Milosevic repeatedly has refused to negotiate with Croatia and Slovenia on the country’s future.
Draskovic, on the other hand, has said he would ″negotiate with the devil″ if it benefits Serbia.
Milosevic and Draskovic face 30 lesser rivals running for Serbia’s president. Also at stake are 250 seats in the republic’s Parliament, which will be contested by 53 parties. In districts where there is no clear winner, runoff elections will be held on Dec. 23.