In Belgrade on 21 May, up to 3000 people took part in the fifth day of street protests against the government's seizure of an influential television station, Studio B. The turnout was significantly lower than on Wednesday 17 May, when up to 30,000 gathered outside Belgrade's city hall to protest against the takeover of Studio B earlier that day. Scores of people were injured during rallies on Wednesday and Thursday, when Serb riot police used batons and tear gas against the protesters. Police said they had been forced to intervene, because of the demonstrators' violent behavior. An adviser to opposition leader Vuk Drašković of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), blamed the lower turnout on the police action. "What can you expect of people at this moment, after such a brutal police intervention? it was the most brutal police intervention since 1991," Ognjen Pribičević told Radio B2-92. "People were frightened, and they still are frightened; and it is certain that a large number of them have given up," he said (Glas).
On 20 May, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević vowed that Yugoslavia will remain intact and denounced those who want to break it up, the pro-government daily Politika reported. Milošević told Politka, "We will succeed in the defence of these values, despite the concerted actions of Yugoslavia's enemies, from outside and from within, aimed at breaking up the country through armed [conflict], media [campaigns] and other aggression, terrorism, sanctions, treachery, domestic servants and other pressures." Montenegro, headed by President Milo Đukanović, has been pulling away from Serbia and threatening to break away altogether, unless its demands of reform of the joint federation are met.
A temporary rail and road bridge has been built to span the Danube, replacing the one destroyed by NATO bombs last year. It was completed on Monday 22 May, in the country's second largest city, Novi Sad. The 432 meter bridge will restore international rail transport, which was halted for 14 months. All three of Novi Sad's bridges across the Danube were destroyed during the air war, in effect cutting the city in two. One of the construction managers told Reuters the new bridge could be opened for traffic by the end of the week. The bridge was financed by the Reconstruction Agency, which was founded by Milošević. The bridge meets European standards, but speeds will be limited to 30 km per hour. The weight capacity, however, is larger than that of the bombed bridge, he added.
Serb opposition leader Vladan Batić said on Monday 22 May stated that a newly proposed law on fighting terrorism may be aimed at intimidating people who join the anti-government street protests. "Maybe it's just another attempt to frighten people - we'll see," said Vladan Batić of the Christian Democratic Party, Blic reported.
The Yugoslav Left (JUL), a member of the ruling coalition, said on Friday it had proposed the urgent adoption of a law to combat terrorism. JUL Director Mirjana Marković said Parliament should pass the draft legislation early this week. JUL spokesman Ivan Marković, who is also Yugoslav Telecommunications Minister, said that "a terrorist war is now being waged against the country," apparently referring to the wave of protests over a government crackdown on independent media. He said the government would draft the law together with the army and police. Batić said the opposition wanted a peaceful solution to the deepening political crisis. He also said that continuing repression would provoke a popular rebellion. "Those who resorted to terror and whose hands are covered with blood are now saying they will fight terrorism," he said (Danas).
Senior allies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević pledged on Thursday to step up the fight against "terrorism." "Anyone carrying out terrorist actions and killing our citizens upon an American order as well as those who are kidnapping our people should face the death penalty," Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Šešelj told a news conference, Blic reported. This shows increased political tension in Serbia, following the 13 May shooting of a senior government official. The government also believes its internal enemies have helped abduct suspected war criminals for trial by the International Tribunal at the Hague. Authorities have accused student movement Otpor (Resistance) and the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) of being behind this month's shooting of Boško Perošević. Also, they have branded Otpor a "fascist-terrorist" organisation, and police have arrested scores of its activists since the killing.
On Monday, student activists called on Serbs to join the grassroots protest movement that authorities are trying hard to crush. In recent months, police have made hundreds of arrests and unidentified thugs have beaten up activists from the student-based movement Otpor, which the government fears could become a voice for popular discontent. The pressure has been growing, since the assassination of a senior government official from the Vojvodina province a week ago. Opposition activists fear worse may be to come. "We call upon our colleagues; students and professors, academics and public figures, we call upon workers and lawyers, farmers and policemen, to show solidarity with the children of Serbia, who are being arrested and beaten," said Otpor activist Branko Ilić. "Don't be afraid of threats and lies, don't be afraid of force and arrests. Not one regime has won a war against its own people," he told a founding session of the movement, which was held in the packed hall of Belgrade's Independent Media Center. Otpor wants to register itself as a legal organisation, in order to counter charges by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević's government that it is an illegal "terrorist" group (Blic).
On Thursday 25 May, Serbia's government ordered the early closure of all classes at Belgrade University, allowing students in only for exams. The independent Beta news agency quoted university sources as saying the order came from Serbia's Minister for College and University Education, Jevrem Janjić. In a note marked "urgent" sent to all rectors and deans, Janjić ordered that, after 26 May, it was no longer allowed to extend classes or hold any supplementary lessons (Beta). Janjić informed deans that any kind of "assembly or events" at the schools were banned and that the deans will be responsible for any breach of the regulations. "Students will be allowed to enter schools only on the day of their exams and will not be able to use libraries," said the order, as cited by Beta. The move was seen as an attempt to counter students' plans to gather at their faculties and organise a general university strike. However, the Otpor movement has scheduled a strike for Friday in downtown Belgrade.
Vana Suša, 29 May 2000
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