Belgrade’s Pro-Democracy Mayor Ousted By Former Allies, Extremists Thousands Decry Djindjic Firing, Sacking Of Opposition TV Editors

Zoran Djindjic, Belgrade’s first non-communist mayor since World War II and a prominent opposition leader, was ousted Tuesday in an apparently fatal blow to the fledgling pro-democracy movement in Yugoslavia.

Djindjic immediately branded his removal as an illegal coup. An alliance of nationalist extremists, Socialists loyal to dictator Slobodan Milosevic and some of Djindjic’s own former allies joined to sack the mayor after less than eight months in office.

They also fired the editors of Belgrade’s only opposition television station, a move that outraged students and foes of Yugoslavia’s repressive regime. In protest, thousands of demonstrators filled a downtown Belgrade square late Tuesday in a replay of last winter’s pro-democracy marches that swept Djindjic to power. Chanting “treason”, they rallied against what leaders called “dirty deals” and clashed with riot police. Several were injured and arrested, witnesses said.

Djindjic’s ouster was the final step in the collapse of the most serious opposition ever to Milosevic, the former communist widely blamed for the bloody wars that have racked Bosnia and the rest of the former Yugoslavia through most of this decade.

“What we fought for last winter was thrown away,” Djindjic told reporters in Belgrade. “Six months of democratic authority in Belgrade is over. A period of turbulence, crisis and uncertainty lies ahead of us.”

Observers saw Milosevic’s hand behind Tuesday’s political intrigue. It came at a time of general political disarray: A presidential election run-off is scheduled for Sunday after a surprisingly strong showing in parliamentary races by the ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj, a former paramilitary leader who advocates ethnic purity.

Djindjic became mayor of the Yugoslav capital only after three months of relentless demonstrations by tens of thousands of people forced Milosevic to respect opposition electoral victories that he tried to annul. Though Djindjic himself has supported nationalistic causes in the past, he nevertheless represented the first real alternative to Milosevic’s ironclad hold on power.

But within weeks of his arrival at City Hall, Djindjic began to have serious disagreements with his ally in the opposition demonstrations, the charismatic but erratic politician, Vuk Draskovic.

Draskovic insisted on running in last week’s presidential election in Serbia - the dominant republic within Yugoslavia - while Djindjic urged voters to boycott because of what he saw as the lack of sufficient political freedoms.

Draskovic is said to blame Djindjic now for Draskovic’s third-place showing in that election. He took revenge Tuesday by joining with the followers of Milosevic and radical nationalist Seselj in throwing Djindjic out of the mayoral office.

The opposition coalition that had been formed by Djindjic, Draskovic and Civic Alliance leader Vesna Pesic over the past winter created enormous expectations among the previously apathetic Serbian people. And it attracted considerable support, or at least interest, from U.S. and European capitals.

But with Djindjic’s removal Tuesday, the movement appears to be all but dead. Most of Djindjic’s backers were absent from Tuesday’s hurriedly convened session of the city council, which then voted to remove him.

The council then ousted the senior editors of Studio B television, a station owned by the city of Belgrade that had served as the only real opposition to Milosevic’s state television. Most Yugoslavs get their news and information from television.

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