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Belgrade residents clash with police

January 26, 1997

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Police wielding batons beat back demonstrators Sunday as tens of thousands marched through Belgrade in a continuing protest against government annullment of local elections.

Violence broke out for the third straight night when demonstrators tried to enter the center of the capital to reach students who have been facing down riot police in a week-old demonstration. Five protesters were slightly injured.

Two news photographers sustained leg injuries Sunday when a car drove into the crowd. Twenty demonstrators and a policeman were injured in clashes Friday and Saturday.

The demonstrations are part of 10 weeks of pro-democracy protests, sparked when the government of President Slobodan Milosevic ignored the opposition’s victories in November local elections in Belgrade and several other cities.

The students, who have broad popular backing, received encouragement Sunday from an army colonel.

``The soldiers are with you,″ Col. Sreten Simovic told the students, who responded with warm applause. He was accompanied by scores of officers wearing civilian clothes.

``My sons are here and my place is to be here with them,″ Simovic said. ``I call on all officers, retired or active, to come here to give support to our future.″

The students met Jan. 6 with army chief Gen. Momcilo Perisic, and said he assured them that his troops would not intervene against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Officers with an elite army unit in southern Serbia earlier sent a letter supporting opposition rallies.

The protests are the biggest challenge Milosevic has faced. Even Serbia’s traditional supporters, fellow Orthodox Slavs in Russia, have edged away from him.

Milosevic and his hardline allies have refused not only to concede Belgrade and seven other cities won by the opposition coalition Zajedno, or Together, but also to meet the students’ demand for changes at Belgrade University.

In the six cities where Zajedno has been able to take control, Milosevic’s Socialists have refused to give up control of local electronic media.

Patriarch Pavle, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, plans to use a procession for a church holiday Monday to try to lead the students past the riot police. Leaders of the political opposition have urged supporters to join Pavle.

Support for the protests also came from a group of 87 writers and intellectuals fighting for the rights of the Serb minority in troubled Kosovo province.

In Belgrade, professors, judges, doctors, athletes, models and others have come to support the students, who include Belgrade University alumni as well as younger students planning to attend the school.

Students dance all day and night to blaring rock music. Belgraders bring them food and drink.

On Sunday, the students symbolically turned their backs on the police.

``If they continue beating our peaceful supporters, we’ll go on an all-out attack,″ 19-year-old philosophy student Zorana Kitic said, citing a popular street chant. ``But this time, for real. We fear nothing.″

Mica Martic, a 21-year-old language student, added, ``We know the whole city is behind us, and that we are stronger than them. We can chase them out.″

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