BELGRADE, Serbia -- With a passionate speech by an Orthodox priest who condemned the policies of President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, the first person killed in more than a month of anti-government demonstrations was buried yesterday in a ceremony attended by thousands of mourners.
Icy winds and driving snow blasted through pine trees and over gravestones as opposition leaders and sympathizers, friends of the dead man, Predrag Starcevic, and his 10-year-old son, Danilo, solemnly walked behind the hearse to the burial site in the city cemetery.
"He is a victim of all of us not yet ready to be against the system," said the priest, the Rev. Zarko Gavrilovic. "God help us to have cool heads and peaceful demonstrations until we have victory. Victory is in our hands."
Starcevic died Tuesday night after being beaten hours earlier by pro-government supporters. He had been among the thousands of people in Belgrade who have demonstrated daily to protest the government's nullification of opposition election victories last month.
Starcevic, an unemployed tourist guide, was apparently trampled to the ground on a city bridge during a melee between government supporters and opponents.
The Milosevic backers, who had been bused into Belgrade from the provinces to counter the opposition, beat him as he lay on the ground.
Hospital personnel said Starcevic had given them that account as he drifted in and out of consciousness before dying.
The hospital did not formally announce his death until Friday morning, prompting opposition leaders to charge a cover-up.
Adding to anger was a statement from a hospital spokesman that the dead man had suffered from a congenital heart problem. His parents denied that and said Starcevic was healthy when he left their home on Tuesday.
Starcevic, who was described by a relative as having attended every opposition rally for the past 38 days, was in many ways typical of the people who have poured into the city streets to protest Milosevic's autocratic rule.
His death, however, marked a turning point in the growing confrontation between the Milosevic government and the emboldened opposition.
Until Tuesday, the demonstrations of sometimes more than 100,000 people had gone ahead peacefully.
But on Tuesday, and every day since, Milosevic has ordered thousands of riot policemen, some armed with machine guns, to block protesters from marching through the street
There is also a growing feeling of intimidation on the streets as the police, seemingly backed up by baseball-bat-wielding plainclothes officers, have selectively beaten protesters.
Pub Date: 12/29/96