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Friday, August 6, 1999 Published at 22:23 GMT 23:23 UK

World: Europe

Milosevic hits back

Surrounded by supporters, Milosevic said patriotism would prevail

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has dismissed protests against his regime as a continuation of Nato's bombing campaign against Serbia.

The BBC's Jacky Rowland: "Milosevic's comments are clearly part of the government's efforts to regain the initiative"
Speaking for the first time after almost daily demands for his resignation, Mr Milosevic said Nato was being helped by corrupt local politicians.

He said Nato was "trying to undermine our stability from within and to realise in this manner the aims it failed to do with 22,000 tonnes of bombs fired on our country".

In a defiant speech to 200 Serb emigres, he said: "It would be sad if the extended hand of the evil which Nato committed against our country was a hand of our own citizens.

Kosovo: Special Report
"I am certain that this will not happen, I am certain that patriotism and love for the homeland will prevail over treason," Mr Milosevic added.

An alliance of opposition groups has led calls for the Yugoslav leader to quit. Protest rallies have drawn up to 10,000 people, and have been supported by the Serbian Orthodox Church and independent trade unions.

Among those voicing their dissent on Friday were Serb farmers who blocked roads in protest at low crop prices.

The BBC's Jacky Rowland: "An unusual display of defiance"
The BBC's Belgrade Correspondent, Jacky Rowland, says many of the farmers used to be loyal supporters of Mr Milosevic but are no longer satisfied with his performance.

Peacekeepers 'not doing job'

In his speech, the Yugoslav leader also emphasised that Kosovo was still part of Serbia, despite what he said were "attempts to populate Kosovo with wild tribes from Albania".

[ image: Protesters gather almost daily calling for Mr Milosevic to go]
Protesters gather almost daily calling for Mr Milosevic to go
He went on to condemn K-For peacekeepers in the province for failing to protect Serbs against attacks by returning Kosovo Albanians.

He said "the United Nations and the security forces under the UN auspices" were not fulfilling their obligations.

But he said he hoped they would "assume their responsibility" and start protecting the Serbs.

Downfall 'will not take long'

Despite Mr Milosevic's attack on his opponents, one key opposition figure says the "noose" around the president's neck is now tightening.

[ image: The influential Serb Orthodox Church has added its voice to the protests]
The influential Serb Orthodox Church has added its voice to the protests
Zoran Djindjic, the leader of the Democratic Party, warned that Mr Milosevic's power was eroding and that his downfall was inevitable.

He told the Associated Press: "The erosion is great, it will not take long."

Mr Djindjic, who has led almost daily protests calling for the removal of Mr Milosevic, said that even the army and police were no longer fully behind the Yugoslav leader.

He said he believed Mr Milosevic's associates would turn against him as soon as this autumn.

"They are down to the narrow circle around Milosevic and the nucleus of the repressive apparatus," the Democratic Party leader said.

He predicted Mr Milosevic would hold on to power for some time, "but one day an army general will appear on television and ask him to step down".

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