Milosevic starts to backpedal Vilified Serbian head reopens radio stations, but protests continue


BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- He gave them back their independent radio stations. He promised them money. He even watched as they took the first step to possibly regaining their election victories.

But can Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic peacefully persuade a determined army of demonstrators to leave the streets for good? That question hung over Yugoslavia last night as Milosevic made his first moves to quell weeks of protests that have seen tens of thousands of students, pensioners and the unemployed take to the streets to topple the regime.

Two small, independent radio stations were back on the air last night, only hours after more than 100,000 demonstrators joined in an 18th consecutive day of rallies and marches. The government had pulled the plug on the Belgrade broadcasters Tuesday, outraging demonstrators and provoking worldwide

condemnation. A third station, in Milosevic's hometown of Pozarevac, remained closed.

When radio station B-92 went back on the air last night in Belgrade, the broadcasters celebrated in style -- with a full-fledged news conference in which they said authorities claimed the temporary shutdown was for technical, not political, reasons.

In this old Soviet-style city, independent news is treated like gold, and independent broadcasters are heroes to the marchers. The government media have all but totally ignored the protests.

In another move, the head of Belgrade's election commission told a government TV station that he would appeal the annulment of opposition victories in local elections.

The demonstrations were triggered when Milosevic's Socialist Party successfully petitioned the local courts to overturn the Nov. 17 results that gave the opposition victories in 15 of the country's 18 largest cities.

The Supreme Court may issue a ruling on the election by 'D tomorrow. Prosecutors also are investigating the election and its aftermath.

Belgrade newspapers revealed that overdue October pensions would be paid, with a 14 percent increase. Plans also were announced to fund overdue student loans and grants and reduce electricity rates, which had been increased before the local elections.

On a day that his influential wife, Mirjana, returned from India, Milosevic appeared to be cleaning house in his government. A chief spokesman, Aleksander Dijanic, resigned. So did a high party official in the southern town of Nis, site of alleged ballot fraud in last month's election.

Nis also was the site of a protest march that attracted 25,000 people yesterday, a sign that opposition to the regime could be spreading beyond the capital.

But for now Belgrade remains the center of protest, with neatly choreographed demonstrations that begin at noon at the main university and conclude with dinner-time speeches at a main square.

Yesterday's march theme was paper and fire. The demonstrators hurled paper planes and planted candles in flower pots in front of a government-run TV station that has been battered the past few weeks with rocks and firecrackers.

The marchers then assembled in Freedom Square to hear opposition leaders ridicule the regime. A giant Milosevic doll dressed in prison stripes was raised onto a nearby statue.

Bojan Tanaskovic, a 19-year-old student, held a sign in English that said: "Attention, for all those who haven't read '1984' yet, here you can see it for free.

"P.S. Even Orwell couldn't believe it."

"Here, people tell us what we can see, what he can hear," Tanaskovic said.

"We don't know what to do. We can't get on television here. All we can do is walk in the streets. And keep walking in the streets. We don't want to destroy our city. For every window that is broken, we will pay."

Pub Date: 12/06/96

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