Milosevic Warns Strikers of Collapse
Oct. 02, 2000
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ In his first address to the nation since a disputed election, Slobodan Milosevic accused his opponents on Monday of being Western puppets who would break up Yugoslavia.
But as Milosevic berated opponents, a general strike and road blockades aimed at forcing him to concede defeat the Sept. 24 election brought the country to a virtual halt. Even the government weather bureau said it would stop issuing forecasts until Milosevic concedes.
In Belgrade, spokesman for the opposition coalition Cedomir Jovanovic reported several incidents, including a clash with police in Surcin, 12 miles west of the capital, in which four people were injured.
Milosevic, who admitted finishing second to Vojislav Kostunica and called a runoff on Sunday, 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 printing 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 televised speech: ``A puppet government guarantees violence, the possibility of a war lasting for years _ everything except peace. Only governing ourselves guarantees peace.''
In the most serious challenge yet to Milosevic's 13-year rule, strikers clogged roads across Serbia, which with the smaller Montenegro republic makes up Yugoslavia.
The protesters halted traffic south of Belgrade. 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.''
In Prokuplje, protesters seized a local TV station, prompting authorities to cut electricity in the southern town.
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 throughout Serbia, 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,'' said opposition leader Zoran Djindjic.
Kostunica, who says he won the election outright, 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,'' Kostunica 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 as president.
Earlier in Belgrade, Kostunica told reporters ``what is happening now is a revolution _ a peaceful, nonviolent, wise, civilized, quiet and smart democratic revolution.''
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has resisted Western calls for Milosevic to accept defeat, offered to mediate between Milosevic and his challenger at a meeting in Moscow. There was no immediate response to Putin's offer.
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 in 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, the White House spokesman, 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, Milosevic's main pillar of power.
The blockades brought life to a standstill in the central and southern industrial heartland in the towns of Nis, Cacak, Pancevo and Uzice.
As protests expanded tempers frayed. Milosava Jovanovic, 42, a Milosevic supporter, lashed out at protesters.
``Get out of the way you good for nothings!'' Jovanovic said. ``Milosevic should use water cannons to clear them all out!''