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Milosevic Shuts Two Stations in Attempt to Silence Critics

December 3, 1996

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic shut down the main independent radio station and jammed another today in an attempt to silence his critics. But 50,000 demonstrators marched noisily through Belgrade to protest the annulling of elections and his autocratic rule.

Radio B92, which has given wide coverage to 10 straight days of demonstrations, was ordered closed for operating without a legal permit. Staff at Radio Index, the only other independent radio station in the capital, said their transmissions were being tampered with.

The range of the two stations, which have reported live from the marches, is restricted. State-run TV, which blankets Serbia, has given no more than a few seconds of daily coverage to the protests, followed by commentaries criticizing opposition leaders as enemies of the state.

Even though the protests have been largely peaceful, state television has accused opposition leaders of leading ``rampaging hordes of demonstrators″ and ``causing severe material damage to people’s property.″

Both Belgrade stations went off the air before the start of today’s protest, one of a series since the annulment of Nov. 17 local elections won by the opposition.

A short while later, a column of student protesters marched past a busload of policemen and flashed a traditional Serb three-finger salute at police. Policemen responded with the same salute, a sign of sympathy for the demonstrators.

Later, more students marched through Belgrade, putting gas masks on in front of Serbia’s parliament. They then sprayed the building with detergent and wrote on its walls such messages as: ``Red Bandits, Thieves, We Are the Winners.″

A few police and parliamentary security officers tried to stop the crowd, but soon withdrew.

Several Supreme Court judges, meanwhile, lent support to the protests.

The court last week upheld the annulment because of alleged irregularities, but several judges today distanced themselves from those decisions.

``I won’t accept the slave role of the court, dependent judiciary, loyal and incompetent judges, and I won’t keep quiet about their shameful role,″ said Judge Zoran Ivosevic in a letter to the independent Nasa Borba daily.

The education minister late Monday in effect banned student demonstrations by ordering university departments to make sure classes were held. Dragonslav Mladenovic said measures would be taken against the youthful protesters, but he didn’t specify.

The Clinton administration warned Milosevic on Monday that it would act, perhaps by reimposing economic sanctions, if Serbian authorities tried to stifle the protests.

``Our government has made it perfectly clear ... to the Serbian authorities at every level ... that the United States would be outraged if any attempt was made to use force against the demonstrators,″ State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said.

When war broke out in the former Yugoslavia in 1989, most young people were sent into the army, where many died as soldiers or deserted. Tens of thousands fled Yugoslavia, and escaped the draft.

Now, students say they want a normal life in Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic _ and a future that holds the promise of democracy.

So they have become a force for change, challenging the government’s annulment of opposition victories in municipal elections in dozens of towns and cities.

``We must hold on,″ said Djordje Sakic, 20, a biology student. ``If we don’t win this battle, we will lose the war for our future.″

Police continue to permit the demonstrations. But in a possible prelude to tougher action, 32 people have been arrested the past several days for ``brutal attacks on people’s property.″

Eighty thousand protesters hurled eggs, firecrackers and snowballs at Milosevic’s office on Monday, smashing windows.

Opposition leader Vuk Draskovic protested the arrests today in a statement to Milosevic. The breaking of a few windows is minor compared to wartime atrocities, he said.

``It is shameful that your judiciary has not put on trial those who have wrecked our country and destroyed thousands of cities and villages. And not with eggs, but with bombs, grenades and rockets,″ Draskovic told independent radio Index.

``Who is responsible for that terrorism and those crimes, Mr. President?″ Draskovic asked, referring to Milosevic’s role in fomenting wars that left more than 200,000 people dead or missing in Bosnia and Croatia.

He has said the protests would end if Milosevic accepts the election results.

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