Military Won’t Interfere in Belgrade Protests
The independent Beta news agency quotes military officials as saying the army will not interfere in street protests against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Beta also reported late Thursday that three military aircraft had taken off from a military airport near Belgrade, fueling speculation that some of the country’s leadership may have fled the country.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators streamed into Belgrade throughout the day Thursday, seizing the parliament building, as well as the state-run media.
The whereabouts of Milosevic himself are unknown.
“No one knows where Milosevic is,” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, en route to Washington from the Middle East peace talks, told reporters.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica’s statements during the continuing nighttime rally took a triumphant tone.
“What we are doing today is making history,” Kostunica told the crowd gathered across from parliament at the Belgrade city hall. “We call on the military and police to do everything to ensure a peaceful transition of power.”
State-run media renounces Milosevic
Tanjung, the country’s official news agency once firmly in the grip of Slobodan Milosevic, is now referring to Kostunica as Yugoslavia’s “elected president.”
The agency renounced its former affiliation to Milosevic, and said that from now on it would side with its country’s people.
While the change marks a shift in control of Yugoslavia’s media, experts are still watching to see which side of the power struggle Yugoslavia’s military will favor.
Opposition leaders say they are in contact with military officials and are trying to persuade them to recognize Kostunica as Yugoslavia’s leader.
Kostunica himself wasted no time in calling Yugoslavia’s new parliament into session.
According to independent radio B-92 in Belgrade, Kostunica told gathered protesters that the newly elected Yugoslav parliament would meet Thursday evening.
World leaders call for Milosevic’s resignation
President Clinton said today he did not think the U.S. would get involved militarily in the conflict, he supported the demonstrators’ efforts to “get their country back.”
“The people of Serbia have made their opinion clear,” he said. “They did it when they voted peacefully and quietly, and now they’re doing it in the streets because there’s been an attempt to rob them of their vote.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed, calling on Milosevic to resign.
“The verdict from the elections was clear, the verdict from the streets is clear, the message for Milosevic is clear. Go. Go now. Go before any more lives are lost, before there is any more bloodshed,” Blair said.
The leaders of Germany, France and Italy also pushed for Milosevic’s resignation.
Milosevic’s ruling Socialist Party of Serbia said the opposition was causing unrest and violence, and vowed to fight back with “all means to secure a peaceful life,” Reuters reported.
But opposition leader Kostunica took a celebratory tone when he addressed a growing crowd of supporters and demonstrators. “Serbia is running a victory lap at this moment, and along that track there is no Slobodan Milosevic,” he said.
State television knocked off-air
Protesters seized the state television and radio stations Thursday afternoon, causing the state’s three TV stations to go blank. Reporters on the scene said the station buildings were set ablaze. Fires were started in the Yugoslav parliament building earlier in the day.
Opposition leaders told reporters they would attempt to resume broadcasts, ostensibly replacing the stations’ usual pro-Milosevic message with one against the Yugoslav leader.
Before the building was seized, one Serb TV station commentator gave his take on the protests: “At this moment, terror rules in Belgrade,” the commentator said. “They are attacking everyone they see on the streets and there is chaos.”
Protesters seize parliament
Earlier in the day, protesters stormed Yugoslavia’s parliament building in downtown Belgrade, quickly establishing control of the building and prompting police to either surrender or flee.
Parts of the building continue to burn, while reports from the scene say opposition supporters were climbing out of the building’s windows onto balconies, waving flags as the crowd cheered.
Dozens of protesters reportedly have been injured.
Today’s rally in Belgrade coincided with a deadline, set by the opposition, for Milosevic’s resignation. One opposition leader warned that if Milosevic did not leave office, a “flame will engulf the whole of Belgrade.”
A Yugoslav judge yesterday annulled part of the Sept. 24 vote in which Milosevic was defeated by Vojislav Kostunica and said all new elections must take place.
Milosevic had steadfastly refused to accept the election’s results, even before that ruling was issued.