Anti-Milosevic Public Rally Held
CACAK, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Despite police attempts to prevent it, opposition members today mounted the first public rally against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic since the end of the NATO air campaign.
With a crowd of 10,000 people chanting his name, Velimir Ilic, Cacak’s mayor, worked his way through an adoring crowd and stepped onto the podium to loud cheers.
A small explosion about 150 feet from the platform briefly interrupted the rally, smashing the windshield of car and splitting its bumper. As jeers rose from the crowd, Ilic urged calm and warned protesters ``not to give in to provocations.″ The rally continued without further incident.
The demonstration was called by Yugoslavia’s main pro-democracy coalition, The Alliance for Change, and was seen as a first test of whether Serbia’s fragmented opposition can exploit public discontent with Milosevic’s rule to press for reforms.
A few hours before the rally, police summoned one of the protest organizers, Milan Kandic, to their headquarters and ``recommended the rally be put off,″ he told The Associated Press. But Kandic said he was given no written order banning the rally.
Another local official, Ljubisa Petrovic from the Social Democrats, said he received a phone call from the police early today informing him the rally had been banned.
By noon, police set up checkpoints on four main roads leading into Cacak, 60 miles southwest of the capital, Belgrade. Local officials said a Norwegian and a French television crew bound for Cacak were turned back 15 miles outside the capital, but dozens of reporters were still present for the rally.
Police cars repeatedly drove across the main town square ahead of the protest. Posters with bold letters reading: ``For Freedom, For Cacak,″ were plastered along town streets, exhorting town residents to attend the rally.
On Monday, Goran Svilanovic, head of the opposition Civic Alliance party, expressed optimism about the rally. ``Serbia is feverish,″ Svilanovic said.
Discontent has grown throughout Serbia, the main republic of Yugoslavia, since Milosevic gave in to NATO demands and agreed to pull his troops out of the southern Serb province of Kosovo. Despite intense government propaganda in support of Milosevic, Serbs seem increasingly disillusioned with his policies, which led to the bombing and made Serbia a pariah state.
President Clinton has said ``not one cent″ will go to rebuild Yugoslavia until Milosevic is ousted.
However, the pro-democracy opposition has for years been unable to galvanize discontent and rally around a new leader to challenge Milosevic.
The Yugoslav parliament last week revoked the country’s state of war. But opposition leaders say some war decrees, including a ban on public gatherings, remain in place.
Last week, Yugoslav army reservists blocked roads in Serbia to demand back pay for service in Kosovo. At a weekend soccer match, thousands of fans chanted anti-Milosevic slogans. The Serb Orthodox Church and former Milosevic allies have called for his resignation.
``I think the people are increasingly aware that Milosevic and his policies have been defeated,″ declared Svilanovic, whose family comes from Kosovo. ``People can feel he is finished and they are no longer afraid.″