Serb call for free elections

November 12, 1999


The Serbian organisation Otpor (Resistance) emerged from a year of underground activity to launch a campaign of demonstrations last week against the regime of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.

Protesters demanded free and fair elections overseen by the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe and the abolition of two laws that allow repressive political control over universities and the media.

Two thousand students gathered outside the philosophy faculty of the University of Belgrade in their first major action since massive demonstrations in the winter of 1996-97 almost brought down Mr Milosevic.

Students at the universities of Nis in southern Serbia, Kragujevac in central Serbia and Novi Sad in the north held allied demonstrations, voicing the same three demands.

Otpor was formed almost a year ago and went underground as tensions increased in the prelude to Nato action over Kosovo. The demonstrations mark a move to come into the open and to recruit among students - Belgrade University alone has 60,000. Otpor activists say they hope students can help to bridge the divides that exist in the political opposition.

The Belgrade rally began with a speech from Ivan Marovic, a veteran activist from the demonstrations of 1996-97. He said that his generation of students had failed to dislodge President Milosevic and were now backing the new group in their efforts.

Also addressing the crowd were two professors who were both victims of the 1998 University Law on which the demonstration was focused.

Srbijanka Turajlic was fired from her post in the department of electrical engineering and Milan Kurepa quit his job in the physics department. Both had objected to signing new contracts widely viewed as a loyalty pledge to the regime. The law also gave the government sole power to appoint university deans.

At the end of the demonstration, students dropped banners from the windows of nearby university buildings, including one that read "Zivi Otpor" ("Long live Resistance").

The students want their demands included on the agenda of the autumn Serbian parliament session scheduled to begin on November 9 and they called on the Serbian democratic parties to support these demands.

Organisers said they were very happy with the Belgrade turnout. Otpor activist Milja Jovanovic said: "The numbers don't matter at the beginning. We have 100 new members as a result of the rally. I'm encouraged."

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