SCMP Friday, October 6, 2000

Yugoslavia's revolt in full flood

REUTERS in Belgrade

The Yugoslav opposition was in charge of the capital's streets on Friday after a popular and almost bloodless revolution appeared to have swept President Slobodan Milosevic and his henchmen from power.
Belgrade turned into a huge open air party in the early hours of Friday, with dancing in the streets as opposition supporters celebrated what they saw as their new-found freedom.
Serbian opposition leaders decided on Friday to set up what they called a ''crisis committee for Yugoslavia'' to take over powers in governing Serbia, an opposition source told reporters.
The main task of the committee would be to provide and secure public order and peace in the country, the source said.
''So the crisis committee will take over the functions of governing Serbia,'' the source said after the meeting.
Another opposition source said on Friday that contact had been made with Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, an ally of Slobodan Milosevic.
On Thursday demonstrators stormed the federal parliament and the building housing the executive of Milosevic's Socialist Party. Even his propaganda machine switched sides, many of his police joined the protesters and the army stayed in its barracks.
After initial resistance from police, who fired tear gas, the crowds burst into parliament, setting fire to some parts and ransacking filing cabinets. They also took over Serbian state television, where eyewitnesses said director Dragoljub Milanovic and news editor Spomenka Jovic were both beaten.
The state news agency Tanjug, long a mouthpiece of Milosevic and his leftist coalition, referred to opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica as ''elected president of Yugoslavia'' in a report signed ''Journalists of Liberated Tanjug''.
The independent news agency Beta reported that one girl died when she was run over by an excavator during the demonstrations and three people were injured by firearms in Belgrade. About 100 people sustained various other injuries.
There was no official word on the whereabouts of Milosevic, but Beta reported late on Thursday that three aircraft had taken off from a military airport near Belgrade, fuelling speculation that some of the leadership might be leaving.
Serbian opposition sources said on Friday, Milosevic was in a bunker in the village of Beljanica, some 40km west of the town of Bor, which is close to the Romanian and Bulgarian borders, protected by troops.
The United States said on Thursday it hoped Milosevic would not try to hold on to power with some kind of ''last stand''.
''We hope that Milosevic will recognise reality and step aside peacefully,'' National Security Council spokesman PJ Crowley said. ''We also recognise that he is certainly capable of engineering a last stand. For the good of the Serbian people, we hope he won't.''
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on Thursday she would speak shortly to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. The United States and a growing number of other nations want Russia to recognise Mr Kostunica as elected successor to Milosevic.
''I think the people of Serbia, of Yugoslavia, deserve a peaceful exit to a horrible two decades...,'' Ms Albright told reporters aboard her plane on the way back to Washington from Egypt.
Shortly before her arrival in Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said:
''We are looking to first of all, recognise the new government ... second of all, get on with the work of lifting sanctions, and third of all, starting to work with the new government to integrate it into the region and into Europe.''
Tanjug news agency reported that army chiefs were meeting in Belgrade and a statement was expected after the session. The agency, citing reliable sources, said the army chiefs had been meeting for several hours.
Beta said the Yugoslav army would not interfere in protests by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators.
''The Yugoslav army will in no way interfere in street events,'' Beta quoted a source close to the military leadership as saying.
When asked whether the opposition was in contact with the armed forces, a former general turned opposition leader, Vuk Obradovic, said: ''Negotiations are constantly underway.''
Thousands of opposition supporters heeded this call.
Before dawn, several hundred people were still sitting on the parliament stairs, while around 10,000 were still in the square across the road in front of Belgrade city hall building, listening to speeches and music. Many more were sleeping in the park.
''I'll wait all night for the new parliament or if the police come. We expect them between three and five in the morning. I think it is not finished yet,'' said Vladimir, 28, who was among those sitting on parliament's steps.
''If they come? We will fight. I'm sure we will fight,'' he said.
Another supporter, 27-year-old Drasko, said: ''We must be here until Kostunica formally becomes president of Yugoslavia. We must defend our victory.''
In another sign of the end of Milosevic's iron-fisted, 13-year-long rule, police withdrew on Thursday from a coal mine where workers were on strike for the sixth day, putting them in the forefront of the country-wide campaign to oust Milosevic.
Mr Kostunica said he had been promised by France that international sanctions on Yugoslavia would be lifted by next week.
Mr Kostunica, the centre of the protest after he beat Milosevic in presidential elections which were then annulled by the authorities, told the protesters on Thursday they had defeated Milosevic.
''Good evening, liberated Serbia,'' he told the cheering crowd.
''Serbia hit the road of democracy and where there is democracy there is no place for Slobodan Milosevic,'' he said.