Prisoners riot across Serbia
Prisoners rioted at three major prisons throughout Serbia this week, protesting about the appalling conditions for inmates, prison management, and demanding that Serbs who have been jailed for certain criminal activities be included in a proposed amnesty law that would free Kosovo Albanians from Serb prisons. The riots started in the prisons of Sremska Mitrovica and Niš on Monday, spreading to the prison close to Požarevac on Tuesday.
The warden of Niš prison, Miodrag Đorđević, accused the director of the Humanitarian Law Centre, Nataša Kandić, of inciting a riot among prisoners after she spent two hours with the prisoners. However, there seems little evidence to pinpoint this as the cause.
Belgrade daily Glas Javnosti accused senior officers of the State Security Services of orchestrating the riots with the assistance of prison wardens in the hope that all prison documentation would be destroyed by fire. This would dispose of evidence about illegal activities in prisons and also present Yugoslavia's new authorities as incompetent and incapable.
By Thurday the situation had stabilised, and representatives of protesting inmates in the Sremska Mitrovica prison announced all 29 of their demands have been met and that they would ensure conditions in the prison were normalised by Friday.
Negotiations in the Zabela prison near Požarevac are still under way, and the Tanjug state news agency reported that after the death of one inmate (who fell 20 metres from a building), the situation in Niš was also calming down.
Despite fears voiced throughout the week that the mood of the protests would shift, and Albanian prisoners would be attacked by their Serb inmates, this did not happen. Indeed, the protesters have laid great emphasis on the non-ethnic nature of the protests citing examples of inter-ethnic solidarity between prisoners.
Smaller protests broke out in support of the three main riots. In the Padinska Skela facility near Belgrade a peaceful demonstration was organised, and at a juvenile detention centre in Valjevo a hunger strike took place in support of the demands of prisoners in Požarevac, Sremska Mitrovica and Niš.
Security chief charged
The new authorities in Belgrade are in a state of disarray this week over the issue of Rade Marković; head of the Secret Police under Milošević and still in the position today. The Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition have repeatedly threatened to leave the transitional government unless Marković is removed from his position and subject to standard judicial procedure for his (alleged) role in the assassination of Belgrade publisher Slavko Čuruvija last year.
The DOS have stressed that Marković will be removed from his position either from within the government or outside; citing private criminal charges as potential ways of removing several senior Secret Police officials.
The issue appears to lie in the catch that the mandate of the head of Secret Police comes not from the Federal President but from the Serbian Government; and as such whether the Federal President has the authority to dismiss him.
The issue is a highly symbolic one for the new authorities, and represents a mechanism for the resolution of all unsolved cases currently stalled at the public prosecutor's desk. These include abductions and assassinations of key figures. Further, DOS spokesmen believe that surveillance is still being carried out on figures within the new government and telephones are still being tapped; and reports are still being made to Milošević.
The fear is that Marković has the power and infrastructure to pose a destabilising threat to the new system.
Separate charges were filed against Marković in Belgrade on Wednesday, alleging that he had committed the criminal offence of endangering general security. The charges were brought by Serbian Co-Minister for Police Stevan Nikčević, who claims that following calls for his resignation, Marković had threatened the police co-ministers with "Mafia reprisals."
Blic daily reported that at a meeting of Co-Ministers, Marković demanded that the Ministry of Internal Affairs protect him from the "man hunt" being initiated against him, warning that he had many acquaintances in the underground world who respected him as a professional and owed him favours. Nivkević says that the publication of this threat and the upset and fear it instilled in the Serbian people represents a threat to general security.
Power restrictions across Serbia have intensified this week and currently affects three tranches of consumers simultaneously as they are cut off for periods of six hours. In the wake of last year's NATO strikes, Serbia is currently running on limited electricity supplies from Romania.
However, the situation looks set to improve, with Deputy Serbian Prime Minister Nebojša Čović announcing that "The power supply will be stabilised between November 15 and 20." He went on to add that power deliveries were already arriving from neighbouring Bulgaria. He also said that the current state of chaos had been obvious since the summer, and was a key factor in Milošević's decision to call the federal elections on 24 September.
The executive director of the G17 Plus economic think tank, Mlađan Dinkić issued a statement declaring that the problem lay not in levels of consumption but in the level of production, calling on the Serbian Electric Company to explain why essential repairs were being carried out now rather than in the summer as usual.
Diplomatic and international relations
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said that Germany was ready to establish diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia as soon as possible and upgrade economic relations of the two countries following talks with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanović. Fischer told the press that Germany wanted to offer aid in medicine and electrical energy.
The Hague War Crimes Tribunal will open an office in Belgrade soon according to an unnamed Austrian diplomat quoted by AFP this week.
Koštunica said on Monday that Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Hercegovina were much closer to commencing diplomatic relations. At a press conference after the meeting Koštunica pointed out that both diplomatic relations with Bosnia and special diplomatic ties with the Republika Srpska were in line with the Dayton Peace Agreement and would facilitate stability in the region. Klein (the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for Bosnia) described the exchange of ambassadors between Belgrade and Sarajevo as being of crucial importance.
And in other news...
- Montenegro's new Central Bank Act will come into effect as of Monday 13 November, rendering the Deutschmark the only official currency in the republic.
- Caretaker Serbian Prime Minister Milomir Minić survived a fatal car crash unharmed on Tuesday night. The accident occurred on the Valjevo-Belgrade road when the BMW carrying Minić in the back seat collided with a Golf, the driver of which died later in hospital.
- Exit tax from Yugoslavia, paid on departure from the country was abolished by the Yugoslav government.
- It has been revealed this week that the former Serbian health authorities imported medicines from China without proper certification by a federal drug control commission.
- Employees of Telekom Serbia went on strike after their demand that General Director Miloš Nesović resign was not met. This means that Telekom is working at only twenty per cent capacity. The striking workers have said they will process a bare minimum of work, and that more serious action will be taken if the management did not meet their demands.
- Stevan Lilić, of the Faculty of Law at Belgrade University demanded that the Faculty Council immediately suspend the academic and politician Vojislav Šešelj from all the faculty's teaching and executive bodies, for attending the faculty with armed bodyguards and obstructing the business of the Faculty Council "in the same way that he has obstructed other institutions."
- Criminal charges brought against the former director of RTS, Dragoljub Milanović, and other senior officials were this week extended to include "premeditated murder of sixteen people," the lawyer representing families of RTS employees killed during NATO air-strikes announced this week. The charges follow allegations that the RTS officials had known about the attack 24 hours before it took place but did not warn their employees, planning to use their deaths as a propaganda tool.
- Supporters of former Yugoslav President Ivan Stambolić launched a campaign this week called "For Ivan." The aim of the campaign is to raise public awareness and interest in the case of the missing man. The campaign will be supported by Otpor, Radio B92, the Association of Independent Electronic Media and the Beta news agency.
- An expert team will be set up during the coming week to draft a new proposal for relations between Serbia and Montenegro. DOS spokesman Zoran Đinđic said that the team had not been initiated earlier because the establishment of the federal government and problems with the Serbian transitional government had taken first priority.
- Chemical warfare agents were used by the police during civil demonstrations in Belgrade on 5 October, DOS coalition member New Serbia stated this week. They went on to demand an investigation into the chemical make-up of the substances they believe was used in lieu of tear gas.
Eleanor Pritchard, 10 November 2000
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