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article imageState television building in flames. Opposition Prepares To Govern Yugoslavia

By Digital Journal Staff     Oct 6, 2000 in Technology
BELGRADE, YUGOSLAVIA - Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators seeking to topple Slobodan Milosevic turned their fury on his centers of power Thursday, leaving parliament and other key Belgrade sites in shambles and flames. The 13-year rule of the Yugoslav president appeared near collapse.
As demonstrators charged and riot police cowered behind helmets and shields, the federal parliament building, the state broadcasting center and police stations fell in quick succession.
Protesters tossed documents and portraits of Milosevic through the broken windows of the parliament complex. Smoke billowed from the building and from the state television headquarters nearby. Dozens of people were injured, according to witnesses. Some police who fired on demonstrators were beaten.
"Yugoslav Army would not interfere in any way in the street events and would respect their constitutional role in the current events taking place in the country," A source close to the army top said early last night.
"What we are doing today is making history," Kostunica proclaimed during an evening speech in front of Belgrade city hall, across from parliament. "We call on the military and police to do everything to ensure a peaceful transition of power."
Independent B-92 radio said Kostunica called an inaugural session of the new parliament for late Thursday. The crowd chanted for Milosevic’s arrest. Kostunica answered, "He doesn’t need to be arrested. He arrested himself a long time ago."
Speaking from the White House, President Bill Clinton said, "The people are trying to get their country back." British Prime Minister Tony Blair said of Milosevic, "Your time is up. Go now."
There was no immediate reaction from Milosevic, and his whereabouts were not clear. No police were visible at the Milosevic compound in Belgrade’s Dedinje neighborhood, nor was there any sign that Milosevic or members of his family were inside.
"No one knows where Milosevic is," said U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright while en route to Washington from Mideast peace talks. Clashes spread through the capital, which echoed with the sound of stun grenades and tear gas fired to break up the crowds. Later, both state television channels went off the air before coming back on under opposition control, and the state-run Tanjug news agency - one of chief pillars of Milosevic’s rule - announced it is no longer loyal to him.
"From this moment, Tanjug informs the Yugoslav public that it is with the people of this country," a statement carried by the agency said. Another Tanjug report referred to Kostunica as "President-elect of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."
The conquest of the parliament was highly symbolic. But the loss of the state media and the government-run newspaper Politika was a bigger blow to Milosevic, denying him his biggest propaganda tools.
The uprising swelled as security forces showed little willingness to battle the largest-ever anti-Milosevic protest. Many police joined the flag-waving crowds as they surged across central Belgrade. Thousands more people joined smaller rallies in towns throughout the country.
The Yugoslav military remained in its barracks and it was unclear whether the army remained loyal to Milosevic, but his security forces appeared to be disintegrating, with protesters seizing police precincts without a fight. The level of defiance was unprecedented in Yugoslavia’s 55-year communist history.
"They’re giving up," said a demonstrator. The government acknowledges that Kostunica outpolled Milosevic in the Sept. 24 election but says he fell short of a majority in the five-candidate race. A runoff had been set for Sunday.
The president has already countered in the courts in an apparent bid to cling to power. The Milosevic-controlled Yugoslav Constitutional Court issued a decision Wednesday that Tanjug said nullified "parts" of the election. The ruling outraged opposition supporters, who had brought the case in hopes Kostunica would be declared the winner.
Hundreds of thousands of people broke through police convoys and streamed into Belgrade for Thursday’s opposition rally, and the melees erupted as the rally was beginning.
One attempt to storm parliament was repulsed by tear gas, but following waves of protesters broke through. By late afternoon, opposition supporters who had been inside the parliament building were climbing through the windows and onto the complex’s balconies, waving flags as the crowd roared below.
Several shop windows were shattered, and by evening orange flames still billowed from part of the parliament building. Big trucks with loudspeakers drove through Belgrade blasting folk and rock music. The downtown headquarters of the Yugoslav Left, the neo-communist party run by Milosevic’s wife, was demolished, with the graffiti "People’s Revolution" sprayed on inside walls.
More than 100,000 people gathered in front of parliament before Kostunica’s evening speech. Protesters - from burly farmers to black-robed Serbian Orthodox priests - waved Yugoslav flags outside the building. The crowd chanted "Kill him! Kill him!" as opposition leaders claimed victory over Milosevic.
More about Milosevic, Yugoslavia, Belgrade, Demonstrators
 
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