Serbia’s opposition said Saturday it would end its three months of relentless street protests within days, but pledged to keep pressing the autocratic president for more democratic concessions.
“This year must be the year of the victory for democratic Serbia,” opposition leader Vuk Draskovic told about 15,000 people who turned out for the 88th straight day of protests Saturday.
Under pressure at home and abroad, President Slobodan Milosevic belatedly recognized opposition victories in Belgrade and 13 other cities and towns in Nov. 17 municipal elections. Milosevic’s annulment of those victories had triggered the protests.
Serbian authorities announced that Belgrade’s City Council, where the opposition won an overwhelming majority, would be established Friday. That will be the first time in 52 years that a government other than Communist or post-Communist Socialist has ruled the capital city.
“We have won the battle for Nov. 17, the first citizens’ victory since 1945,” Draskovic said. The crowd responded with chants of “Victory!” Opposition leaders planned to celebrate in the streets Friday, but said the battle for democratic changes must continue.
They said they would start setting deadlines for specific demands to be met - starting with freedom of the news media.
Zoran Djindjic, another opposition leader, said street protests would resume if authorities did not ease their tight grip on state-controlled news media within three weeks.
“We’ll set a deadline,” Djindjic told the crowd. “If they don’t respect it, we’ll hit the streets again.”
He said the next demand would be the creation of conditions for free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections due in Serbia by the end of the year.
“Our final goal is the change of this regime,” Djindjic said. “We haven’t finished our work. We must not get carried away by illusions of success.”
Although the opposition will end its daily rallies, students say they will continue protesting until the hard-line rector of Belgrade University is fired.
Noisy evening marches, where citizens blow whistles and pound just about anything to make a din to drown out state television news, also will continue because those protests are directed against the state-run media - an essential part of Milosevic’s power.
“We must maintain the pressure or he will go for a counteroffensive and introduce repression against the innocent citizens,” Djindjic told the independent B-92 radio.
Neo-Communists led by Milosevic’s powerful wife, Mirjana Markovic, called their opponents terrorists and threatened arrests, newspapers reported Saturday.
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