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Police beat protesters in Belgrade, at least 50 injured

February 3, 1997

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ It was the biggest show of force in 75 days of anti-government demonstrations. Hundreds of riot police used clubs and fired water cannons to disperse protesters, injuring at least 80 people.

Sunday’s bloody assault suggested that President Slobodan Milosevic could be moving to crush the protests that have shaken his government.

Clashes that began at midday continued into early this morning after riot police smashed through a crowd of thousands and then chased protesters all over downtown Belgrade.

Some 80 people were injured, including at least eight policemen, as police swung batons and protesters responded by throwing rocks.

Witnesses told independent radio stations that scores of protesters had been arrested. There was no word on arrests from authorities this morning.

Two people were hospitalized with broken limbs; other injured people were treated at two clinics. Slobodan Jovanovic of Anlave clinic said several people were seriously injured, including a student who had his front teeth broken.

The protesters demand that the government honor opposition victories in Nov. 17 municipal elections. Milosevic’s government has refused to acknowledge opposition victories in Belgrade and 13 other major cities, even though they were confirmed by international observers.

Protest leaders scheduled a downtown rally for this afternoon, after a separate student rally at noon.

Vuk Draskovic told protesters to ``bring everything they need for their defense.″ He vowed there would be ``no more Gandhi-style resistance.″

One opposition leader, Vesna Pesic, was among those beaten by police. She, Draskovic and co-leader Zoran Djindjic all intended to address the afternoon rally.

The police assault followed a tense four-hour standoff Sunday morning on a Belgrade bridge, which began when riot police prevented Draskovic from leading thousands of his supporters to the daily pro-democracy rally.

Other opposition leaders, who joined supporters in different districts of Belgrade, also marched toward the bridge.

Radio Index said police reinforcements were gathering in adjacent streets. Hundreds of riot police first used their shields, then brought in two water cannons.

An Associated Press reporter was clubbed on the back, and cameramen for Associated Press Television, Reuters Television and CNN also were beaten.

Meanwhile, police interrogated editors of two independent newspapers in what could be another crackdown on independent media in Serbia.

Police took Petar Lazic, chief editor of the satirical weekly Krmaca, from his home Saturday and questioned him for two hours, the paper’s business manager Bosko Savkovic said Sunday.

Lazic was questioned about a satirical photomontage that compared Milosevic to the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Police said Lazic could face slander charges.

Milosevic previously shut down Radio Index and Radio B-92, another independent station that carries reports of the protests, but bowed to international pressure and allowed them to continue.