Milosevic at bay Protests grow: Serbian opposition loses fear, wins unlikely supporters.


SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC is on the ropes. Perhaps a quick crackdown would have worked as in 1991. The soft approach, letting steam blow off, was meant to let the demonstrations peter out. People would tire of trudging to Republic Square in Belgrade every night for seven weeks. It's too late now, for they did not. The opposition to the Communist boss of Serbia and federal Yugoslavia in a post-Communist era is growing to critical mass. It is winning support from unlikely allies.

The charismatic opposition leader Vuk Draskovic was an ultranationalist who condemned Mr. Milosvic for not destroying Bosnia. Most of the people in the streets are unhappy because the war brought sanctions by the European and world communities against the federal Yugoslav (Serbia and Montenegro) economy. The cry that unites them is for democracy.

The Milosevic regime spurned a finding by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that the opposition won 15 of the 18 largest cities in local elections.

The synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, a traditional support for Serbian leaders, denounced President Milosevic for "ignoring the will of the electorate" in local elections. Far from dissipating, the opposition put the most protesters yet, 200,000, into Republic Square on the Orthodox Christmas Eve, Monday. The backbone of protest is students. Whatever the politics of Zajedno, the students are without that baggage.

Gen. Momcilo Perisic, Yugoslav army chief of staff, assured student leaders the army would not crack down and favors democratic solutions. The army high command's strength was dissipated by President Milosevic in favor of a police force loyal to himself. The demonstration yesterday,was aimed more at winning over the police.

The growth of opposition reflects a perception that President Milosevic and his Communist wife, Mirjana Markovic, are a spent force. The fear of opposition is vanishing. Without fear, they have little mystique. This is not to suggest who might replace them or what policies would be pursued.

Pub Date: 1/08/97

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