- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2000

BELGRADE The 13-year rule of the Yugoslav president appeared to have collapsed yesterday as mobs seeking his ouster turned their fury on his centers of power, leaving parliament and other key Belgrade sites in shambles and flames.
"As of today, Serbia is again a democratic nation," declared an opposition leader, Nebojsa Covic, referring to Yugoslavia's main republic. "It belongs to all of us, to Europe and to the world."
During the day, hundreds of thousands of people swarmed through the capital to demand that Mr. Milosevic accept his apparent electoral defeat by Vojislav Kostunica in the Sept. 24 election. The uprising developed with stunning speed, swelling as security forces showed little willingness to battle the largest anti-Milosevic protest ever.
Some police who did fire on demonstrators were beaten. The government's Tanjug news agency, which defected to the opposition, said two persons were killed and 65 injured in the rioting. All but 12 of the injured were treated and released from hospitals, Tanjug said.
Many police put down their clubs and joined flag-waving crowds as they surged across central Belgrade through clouds of tear gas. 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 docus and portraits of the Yugoslav president through the broken windows of the parliament complex. Smoke billowed from the building and from the state television headquarters nearby.
Elsewhere in the country, thousands more people joined smaller rallies in a number of towns.
"What we are doing today is making history," Mr. Kostunica proclaimed during an evening speech in front of Belgrade city hall, across from parliament.
There was no immediate reaction from Mr. Milosevic, and his whereabouts were not clear.
The dominolike successes of the opposition did not fully erase fears that Mr. Milosevic could still strike back. Mr. Kostunica asked supporters to remain on the streets until dawn to try to block any possible counterattack by the military. He also appealed to people from the countryside to stream into Belgrade for rallies today.
"We call on the military and police to do everything to ensure a peaceful transition of power," he said.
The crowd chanted for Mr. Milosevic's arrest. Mr. Kostunica answered: "He doesn't need to be arrested. He arrested himself a long time ago."
At the White House, President Clinton said: "The people are trying to get their country back." British Prime Minister Tony Blair said of Mr. Milosevic: "Your time is up. Go now."
Opposition leader Zoran Djindjic said Mr. Milosevic was holed up in the eastern town of Bor, some 50 miles southeast of the capital, and that he had not been in touch with Mr. Kostunica's camp. But there were also rumors that Mr. Milosevic had left Serbia in a plane.
Commenting on that possibility, National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger said: "There are a lot of rumors swirling around, and I would take them all with a certain grain of salt at this point. Again, we have no reason at this stage to believe that he's not still in Serbia."
Later in the evening, during an interview on state television, Mr. Kostunica said he envisions a democratic Serbia that has normal relations with other countries and does not suffer under diplomatic sanctions.
The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions against the Milosevic regime for several years. But French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said France, which holds the rotating EU presidency, is "taking the necessary steps" for the EU to reconsider the sanctions as early as Monday.
In Belgrade, 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Milosevic, denying him his biggest propaganda tools.
During the evening TV interview, Mr. Kostunica said that from now on, state television will be open to a variety of different viewpoints.
"It must be a mirror of all the people's sensibilities," he said.
A statement from Mr. Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia said it would "fight against violence and destruction" with "all its force and in all state institutions," Tanjug reported.
The Yugoslav military remained in its barracks and it was not clear whether the army remained loyal to Mr. 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 who identified himself only as Sasha.
The government acknowledges that Mr. Kostunica outpolled the beleaguered Yugoslav president 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.
Mr. Milosevic 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 Mr. Kostunica would be declared the winner.
Hundreds of thousands of people broke through police convoys and streamed into Belgrade for yesterday'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.
Inside the building, chaos reigned. Gangs of young people, many of them intoxicated, roamed the building, smashing furniture and computers and looting what valuables they could carry.
But police offered little resistance and the clashes ebbed. Afterward, as night fell, thousands of demonstrators walked the streets in a relatively relaxed atmosphere. Some were drunk and brandishing handguns.
Many protesters wore paper caps with the slogan "We'll Endure." They moved past shops, some shut down with signs stating, "Closed because of robbery" an allusion to opposition claims that Mr. Milosevic stole the elections.
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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Milosevic.
"At this moment, terror rules in Belgrade," state television said in a commentary earlier, before a bulldozer broke into its headquarters and the opposition took it over. "They are attacking everyone they see on the streets and there is chaos."

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