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Thousands protest arrest and beating of young protester

December 9, 1996

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ The arrest and beating of a young demonstrator who paraded through Belgrade with an effigy of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in a prison uniform prompted new street protests today.

Union organizers battled fear of a police crackdown to get workers to join the daily protests, which began after authorities annulled the Nov. 17 elections that the opposition won in Serbia’s capital and 14 other cities.

The Serbian Supreme Court, which is controlled by Milosevic, gave no reason why it rejected an appeal Sunday to reinstate the opposition victory but honoring the ballot box win would have given Milosevic’s foes control of Belgrade.

Radomir Lazarevic, chief of the Belgrade election commission, told reporters that the election commission would appeal the ruling to the federal courts of Yugoslavia, the federation of Serbia and smaller Montenegro. The federal court must rule within 48 hours.

Regardless, the Serbian Supreme Court decision did not bode well for appeals of nullifications of elections in other cities and brought out 100,000 protesters Sunday against Milosevic, who once had extraordinary grass-roots support in Serbia.

Zoran Djindjic, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, said it was no longer a question of the opposition winning back its election gains.

``This is an uprising to win democracy,″ Djindjic said.

Thirty-thousand students were on the streets today, this time to protest the arrest Saturday and beating of 21-year-old Dejan Bulatovic. Foes of Milosevic said he was fingered for being one of several protesters in Belgrade who stood atop a jeep with an effigy of Milosevic in a prison uniform.

``Must we bow our heads and take all of this?″ said a statement issued by the students. ``Tomorrow it could be one of us. Let’s rebel against their brutality.″

Independent radio B 92, which had been shut down last week by the authorities and then allowed to re-open, reported Bulatovic faced charges of offending Milosevic and could be sentenced to up to three years in jail.

Kati Marton, chairwoman of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, met with Milosevic on Saturday and later told B 92 that the Serbian leader pledged not to use force against protesters.

But the opposition reported Sunday that eight people _ including Bulatovic _ had been arrested the past two days, bringing last week’s total to 40.

Independent unions pledged to start strikes today in support of three weeks of political protests. But workers traditionally are poorly organized here, and the protests got off to a slow start.

``People are afraid of their managers, and afraid of possible consequences,″ said one blue-collar protester, Vojin Malesev, who was among the hundreds who gathered at a large Belgrade factory.

A strong workers’ movement could mean serious trouble for Milosevic, under whom the economy has taken a long nosedive. Malesev, however, said workers are afraid to be considered troublemakers like the political protesters.

Many of them have worked only sporadically for the last several years. Malesev said he hasn’t received anything for five months. His normal pay is $40 per month.

Serbian TV, which is under Milosevic’s tight control, sharply criticized the opposition in a report late Sunday.

In recent weeks, it has buried news of the mass demonstrations flooding Belgrade and other cities, trying to get its point across by interviewing citizens who oppose protest.

This time, TV took the protesters head-on.

Its report came earlier in the nightly news broadcast and showed more film of the protest. It suggested that protest leaders had foreign sponsors.

It also claimed the opposition was receiving support from Adem Demaci, a leader of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province. The criticism harked back to the period when Milosevic consolidated his hold on Serbia over the Kosovo issue and used nationalism to inspire support.

Very few Serbs would be inclined to associate themselves with any Kosovo Albanian cause.

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