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Southern Province Said On Verge Of General Strike Over Ethnic Conflict

February 22, 1989

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Thousands of ethnic Albanians stopped work or went on a hunger strike in troubled Kosovo province Tuesday, protesting alleged anti-Albanian policies, official media and sources said.

Official sources interviewed by telephone in the regional capital of Pristina told The Associated Press that the southern province is ″on the verge of a general strike.″

Also Tuesday, the official Tanjug news agency reported a police official beat up a journalist who wrote about alleged corruption, one of a string of recent attacks on Yugoslav reporters.

The protest in Kosovo was triggered by a hunger strike of more than 1,000 ethnic Albanian miners who refused to leave their pits at the Trepca lead and zinc mine. The miners allege discrimination by communist authorities in Yugoslavia’s largest republic, Serbia, of which Kosovo is an adminstrative part.

Thousands of other ethnic Albanians in the economically depressed province walked off their jobs in other Kosovo towns Tuesday in support of the miners’ demands that the Communist Party chiefs of Yugoslavia and Serbia, Stipe Suvar and Slobodan Milosevic, come to talk with them, media reports said.

The Trepca miners near Titova Mitrovica, 125 miles south of Belgrade, protested the official Serbian policy that labeled them ″demonstrators, nationalist and separatists″ when they took to the streets last November, the state Tanjug news agency said.

Medical teams were sent to the Trepca mines where some of the protesters have refused to take water and food for the past 24 hours. The provincial communist leadership has opened an emergency session to discuss the labor unrest, Tanjug said.

″Although ventilation in the shafts is being maintained, the potential danger of an accident in the mine is very real,″ Agim Bajrami, a Trepca employee, told the AP, adding that the miners had sealed off all the pit entrances not allowing anybody in.

The ambitious Serbian party leader, Milosevic, has been seeking to curtail the autonomy of Kosovo, which won broad independence from Serbia by the current Yugoslav constitution adopted in 1974.

Serbian leaders want more control in Kosovo to protect the Slav population allegedly persecuted by the ethnic Albanians, who make up 85 percent of the province’s population.

In November, the Trepca miners marched to Pristina to protest the dismissal of some top provincial officials as demanded by Serbia’s leaders and were joined by up to 100,000 ethnic Albanians.

In the southern republic of Montenegro, reporter Milovan Brkic was assaulted Monday in the police headquarters in the capital Titograd by Ratko Micunovic, a department head of the state security police, Tanjug said.

Brkic, who had published a story claiming Micunovic and other state security officials were corrupt, lodged a formal complaint and was assaulted again by a group of unindentified thugs waiting outside, Tanjug said. He was taken to a hospital for treatment of severe head and other injuries.

Police said Micunovic was suspended from duty pending an investigation, Tanjug reported.

Last week, a woman television reporter was beaten up by an unindentified attacker who first vilified her for a recent program in which she presented the Albanian viewpoint in Kosovo.

Last month, a police cordon prevented several dozen rowdies from breaking into the Belgrade offices of the Zagreb Vjesnik daily, angry about allegedly critical stories about Serbia’s policies in Kosovo.

Update hourly