BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) — Foes of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, struggling to maintain momentum after two weeks of protests, declared Sunday that they would take their movement to cities throughout the country.
Up to 100,000 people braved a frigid mix of rain and snow to march through the capital on the 14th day of protests sparked by court decisions annulling opposition victories in local elections.
Once again, they hurled eggs and firecrackers at state TV and the Serbian parliament building.
It was unclear how long the demonstrations could continue to draw crowds as large as Saturday, when 150,000 people were on the streets. But the protests already have been the largest and most sustained ever against the Serbian leader.
Police so far have tolerated the demonstrations, but warned in a statement Sunday that they would no longer allow unauthorized protests. Protesters will bear the responsibility for the results if they break the law, police said.
The speaker of the Serbian parliament also said a crackdown might be in the works against the protests, which he called a “pro-fascist rampage.”
“This is not discontent. This is a struggle for power,” Dragan Tomic said in an interview with Serbian TV, a Milosevic mouthpiece.
There were unconfirmed hints of compromise, however:
— One independent radio station reported that Western diplomats were trying to mediate between Milosevic and the opposition.
— Belgrade’s independent BETA news agency quoted sources close to the leadership of Milosevic’s Socialist Party as saying he was preparing to fire some party hardliners, including the leader in the southern city of Nis. The source, who was not identified, said Milosevic would follow that with negotiations with the opposition.
The source was quoted as saying Milosevic was in a “blind alley,” because he could not undo the election results, but also recognized how much they had damaged him.
Opposition leader Zoran Djindjic, at a rally in Nis, told independent Index radio that the demonstrations would spread.
“We have decided to broaden the protests to another six or seven towns,” he said. “The network of protest and civil disobedience is taking hold. … This is a test of legality, we are defending the principle of respecting the law.” Belgrade, the capital, has long been an opposition stronghold. But Nis was a Milosevic bastion until it angrily turned against him because of the country’s economic woes.
The economy is suffering from the effects of mismanagement, corruption, and 3 years of economic sanctions imposed because Milosevic instigated wars in Croatia and Bosnia as the old Yugoslav federation broke up.
Djindjic’s announcement indicated that the opposition was intent on spreading the protests to other industrial cities where Milosevic has in the past enjoyed strong support.
So far, industrial workers have not come on in great numbers for the protests despite their economic troubles. Students have been one of the main engines driving the rallies.
The current generation of students seems determined to fight Milosevic, whom opponents regard as a Communist who merely changed the name of his party without changing its policies.
“We won’t live under the same regime as our parents did,” said medical student Mihajlo Jakcevic, 21. “They might have not wanted to live under Communism, but had no choice. We are determined to choose.”