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World Leaders Respond to Belgrade Protests

President Clinton answered reporters’ questions after speaking at the White House Rose Garden Thursday morning.

QUESTION: Mr. President, the situation in Belgrade appears very critical. Citizens have stormed the parliament building. What message today, sir, do you have both to those folks who have stormed the parliament and to President Milosevic himself?

PRESIDENT CLINTON:The United States stands with people everywhere who are fighting for their freedom. We believe in democracy. I have said before, the opposition candidate, who, according to all unbiased reports, clearly won the election, obviously has — also has strong differences with us. This is not a question of whether he agrees with us. All we want for the Serbian people is what we want for people everywhere, the right to freely choose their own leaders. And you know, it’s — it’s been a hard-core dictatorship. They had an election. The election results were then apparently altered, and then now the court has made this decision. I think the people are trying to get their country back. And we support — we support democracy and the will of the Serbian people.

QUESTION: A follow-up, if I may, sir. Will the U.S. in any way intervene if force is used against the citizens in Belgrade or other parts of Serbia?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don’t believe that it’s an appropriate case for military intervention. And I don’t believe that the United States should say or do anything which would only strengthen Mr. Milosevic’s hand. The people of Serbia have made their opinion clear. They did it when they voted peacefully and quietly, and now they’re doing it in the streets because people tried to — there’s been an attempt to rob them of their vote.

And I think if the world community will just stand with — stand for freedom, stand for democracy, stand for the will of the people — I think that will prevail. It did all over Eastern Europe. We’ve had a peaceful transition, democratic transition with an election in Russia. The world is moving toward freedom and democracy, and the United States should support those forces, and we will do so strongly.

British prime minister Tony Blair spoke outside 10 Downing Street in London on Thursday and answered reporters’ questions.

PRIME MINISTER: 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 destruction. And I say this to the people of Serbia: whatever the differences that have been between us, now that you have reached for democracy, the hand of friendship and partnership from countries like Britain is there for you so that together, in whatever way we can, we rebuild this troubled part of Europe in order to secure a peaceful and a prosperous future for all the people there.

QUESTION: Would you describe this as a revolution, a popular uprising?

PRIME MINISTER: There’s no doubt at all that on the elections and on the streets, it’s the expression of popular and democratic will, which is why Milosevic should heed it and should go, and should minimize the further destruction in his country and allow Serbia to be rebuilt, peacefully as a democracy. And allow us in the rest of Europe to extend a hand of friendship and partnership to people there and help in that endeavor.

QUESTION: Is that hand of friendship extended to the people of Yugoslavia now, or after Milosevic goes?

PRIME MINISTER: We’ve always made it clear that while Milosevic remains, while that dictatorship remains in place, it is very difficult for us to help. But we have a process of reconstruction in the Balkans underway, we want to help all the people there. The people of Serbia are a vital part of that reconstruction. Now that they are reaching for democracy, now that we can see if Milosevic goes there is the prospect of a democratic future for Serbia, then of course we are there and ready and willing to help.

QUESTION: What would your message be to the Yugoslav military and police?

PRIME MINISTER: I hope and believe that they should respect the verdict of the people. We’ve had the elections. The demonstrations on the streets are clearly a demonstration of popular will, and the will of the people should be done.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he wanted to see an end to Yugoslavia’s international isolation and for the country to develop along democratic lines.

In televised comments, Putin said Russia would do whatever it could to help Yugoslavia. “We are ready to contribute to this country overcoming the current crisis, coming out of international isolation and putting itself firmly on the path of democratic development,” he said in comments broadcast on state-owned television. He called for the Yugoslav opposition, led by Vojislav Kostunica, and the forces of President Slobodan Milosevic to avoid escalating the violence in their country. He said he hoped Yugoslavia would remain a united country.

The Yugoslav state news agency Tanjug carried a statement on Thursday from the Socialist Party of Serbia, the party of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. It stated, in part:

“It is no democracy to destroy electricity producing equipment, to go wild and block roads, to stop production….

“The Socialist Party of Serbia will within all institutions and with all its powers fight against violence and destruction and for peaceful life in our country.”

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