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500,000 Belgrade Demonstrators Protest Resignations In Kosovo

February 28, 1989

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ About 500,000 angry Serbs massed in Belgrade streets today to protest what they see as separatist tendencies in Kosovo province, where an eight-day miners’ strike forced the resignation of three leaders.

Yugoslav President Raif Dizdarevic addressed the crowd in front of the federal parliament, promising the country’s leadership would ″undertake all necessary measures″ to prevent Yugoslavia from falling apart.

The protesters frequently interrupted his speech with slogans praising Serbia’s Communist Party leader, Slobodan Milosevic.

″It is the duty of the presidency to defend the integrity of the federation and the constitutional system of the country,″ Dizdarevic said.

″The presidency of Yugoslavia is undertaking and will undertake all necessary measures, perscribed by the constitution and law, to defend Yugoslavia, its system and security of all peoples in this country,″ he said.

Hundreds of ethnic Albanian miners ended their occupation of the Trepca lead and zinc mine in Kosovo province Monday night after the three provincial officials bowed to the strikers’ demands and resigned.

However, the miners said they would not go back to work until all their original demands are met, including abandonment of planned changes in the constitution.

The government imposed emergency measures in Kosovo province on Monday.

The three ethnic Albanian officials, including Kosovo’s Communist Party boss, Rahman Morina, were considered by the strikers as supporters of the Communist Party in the republic of Serbia, which has been demanding greater control over its nominally autonomous province of Kosovo.

Meanwhile, in a second lead and zinc mine Monday, 800 members of Kosovo’s Slav minority occupied their pits to protest the resignations. Also denouncing the resignations at several protest meetings in the province were thousands of Serbs and Montenegrins, groups in the Slav minority in Kosovo.

The province and other parts of the country were struck during the past year with mass demonstrations by Slavs, who say their group suffers discrimination from majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The demonstrators called for greater Serbian control over Kosovo and forced the ouster of dozens of national and regional leaders.

Some protesters in Belgrade said they were prompted to march by a televised report from Ljubljana, where leaders in the liberal republic of Slovenia lent support to the striking miners. About 100,000 Slovenians signed a petition in Ljubljana protesting introduction of emergency measures in Kosovo.

Yugoslavia’s state presidency, which imposed the emergency measures in Kosovo province, said the constitutional system of the country was jeopardized by the miners’ strike and other work stoppages by thousands of the miners’ ethnic Albanian supporters in Kosovo in the past week.

The protests in Kosovo have centered on the ethnic Albanian majority’s worry that constitutional changes proposed by Serbia will limit the province’s autonomy. Yugoslav leaders have denied this.

The collective leadership did not elaborate on the emergency measures, but in an apparent show of force, military jets several times flew over Pristina, the capital of Kosovo province.

A long line of tanks was parked in front of the army barracks in Pristina, and military vehicles full of soldiers were seen on a road leading to Titova Mitrovica, site of the Trepca mine.

Army reservists marched near the Trepca mine, indicating at least a partial call-up in the region.

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