VOJISLAV Seselj, once a dissident academic and now leader of the extreme-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, has accused the United States of financing the Student Protest 96/97 movement.
The leaders of the movement, Mr Seselj said, have been "bought" and are enjoying "great material gains" from the demonstrations of the past three months. The allegations have been denied by the spokesman of the movement, Dusan Vasiljevic.
Mr Seselj, who was addressing one of the party's regular news-briefings, cited two "proofs" of his allegations. The first was a statement made by Richard Miles, the charge d'affaires at the US embassy in Belgrade, praising the pro-democracy movement in Serbia and urging the Serbian government to heed the demands of the ethnic Albanians who make up most of the population of Kosovo province, which has been under direct rule from Belgrade since 1989. This, Mr Seselj said, proved "systematic interference" by the US in internal Serbian affairs.
The second "proof" came from a statement published in the Belgrade newspaper Nedeljni Telegraf by Miodrag Gavrilovic, one of the leaders of Student Protest 96/97, who said that the protests had initially been financed by private firms, and that money had also come from "one of the most powerful Americans in Europe, who is a Serb and whose name is Dragan Zivanovic". This financial assistance from an individual American citizen was interpreted by Mr Seselj as implyingUS government involvement.
Mr Seselj did not dispute the students' good intentions in taking to the streets to protest against the Serbian government's refusal to accept the local election results. The protests had been "justified" but, he alleged, the student leaders had been "bought, just like those of 1968, 1991 and 1992".
Mr Vasiljevic, on behalf of Student Protest 96/97, denied that the leaders of the movement had profited financially from it. They were not, he said, "hirelings", even though it was a great honour to be termed a "hireling" of "one of the greatest patriots today defending the name and interest of Serbs in the world.
How the donations mentioned by Gavrilovic had been used, Vasiljevic did not say. However, events mounted by the students must have cost quite a considerable sum to stage, for example, the pelting of the state television headquarters with thousands of toilet rolls.
Although the Serbian assembly has enacted a law validating the majority of the disputed election results, and the opposition "Together" coalition has suspended its protests, the students are continuing alone even though February 24 was the deadline for returning to classes.